OLYMPIA— Gov. Jay Inslee today asked President Obama to approve his requests for two Major Disaster Declarations to provide much needed federal assistance to help families, business owners, local jurisdictions and tribes attempting to recover from this summer’s massive wildfires as well as a late August windstorm.
In letters to President Obama, the governor asked for individual assistance, public assistance and hazard mitigation grant programs for the areas hardest hit by the fires and windstorm (see list of impacted communities and description of programs, below).
“This is the second time in two years that many of the same communities and counties have been impacted by disaster,” Inslee said. “The people of Washington state are resilient, but at the same time, their governments’ resources can only go so far. Federal assistance will help enormously in getting our friends, neighbors and communities on the road to recovery.”
Since June 1, more than 1 million acres burned in Washington state. The Okanogan Complex became the largest in state history, burning more than 522,920 acres. Thousands were asked to evacuate when fires threatened multiple cities and towns in Eastern Washington and threatened to cut off evacuation routes for some residents. Three firefighters were killed and one suffered life-threatening injuries. A preliminary damage assessment showed the fires destroyed 146 homes and damaged another 476, two-thirds of which were uninsured or underinsured.
On August 29, the largest windstorm on record for August struck the state, causing widespread power outages and damage to utilities and other public infrastructure in Western Washington. Nearly half a million customers lost power in the storm. Near-hurricane force winds reached 63 miles per hour in Hoquiam, 70 mph on Whidbey Island, and 80 mph on Destruction Island off the coast of Jefferson County. This weather system also brought gusty conditions to Eastern Washington, forcing firefighters to withdraw from the area between the Tunk Block and North Star fires, with blowing dust hampering other firefighting efforts for several hours.
The governor made the following requests for federal disaster assistance:
- Summer Wildfires:
- Individuals and Households Program, the Disaster Crisis Counseling Program, the Disaster Unemployment Program, and the SBA Disaster Loan Program for Physical and Economic Loss for Chelan County, Okanogan County, and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
- Public Assistance Grant Program for Chelan County, Columbia County, Douglas County, Ferry County, Garfield County, Lincoln County, Okanogan County, Pend Oreille County, Stevens County, Whatcom County, Yakima County, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Kalispel Tribe of Indians, Spokane Tribe of Indians, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.
- Public Assistance Program for Clallam County, Grays Harbor County, Island County, Jefferson County, King County, Lewis County, Mason County, Pierce County, Skagit County, Snohomish County, and Whatcom County, to include the Lummi Nation, Nooksack Indian Tribe, Quileute Nation, and the Quinault Indian Nation.
In addition, the governor asked that the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program be made available statewide. The program provides funds for community planning and projects designed to limit or prevent future disaster damage.
If approved by the president, the Major Disaster Declarations would bring with it the following forms of assistance:
- Disaster housing, which provides funds for up 18 months to displaced individuals and families whose residences were heavily damaged or destroyed to find temporary housing in the local area. Funding also can be provided for housing repairs and replacement of damaged items to make homes habitable.
- Disaster grants, which help individuals address other disaster-related needs and necessary expenses not covered by insurance and other aid programs. These may include replacement of personal property, transportation, medical, dental and funeral expenses.
- Disaster-related unemployment insurance to provide unemployment insurance benefit payments to individuals who became unemployed as a result of the disaster.
- Crisis counseling program, which provides grants to provide services to disaster survivors, responders, and others impacted by the disaster.
- U.S. Small Business Administration to make its disaster loan program available. The program makes low-interest loans available after a disaster for homeowners and renters to cover uninsured property losses. Loans may be available for repair or replacement of homes, automobiles, clothing or other damaged personal property. Loans are also available to businesses for property loss and economic injury.
This Federal Emergency Management Agency grant program will defray 75 percent of the eligible costs of the emergency response, debris removal and permanent repairs to repair roads, bridges, public utilities and other public infrastructure.
In addition to these programs, Washington received 12 Fire Management Assistance Grants to help defray 75 percent of eligible state and local fire suppression costs associated with the summer’s many fires. These grants are awarded to pay for suppression efforts that prevent a fire from turning into a major disaster.
President Obama approved an Emergency Declaration for Washington state on August 21 that provided direct federal expertise to assist with the wildfire response and beginning of recovery.