Gov. Jay Inslee late yesterday learned the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied his request for the Individual Assistance Program to help families impacted by the summer wildfire season. Had the program been approved, impacted communities would have had access to assistance with the repairs of homes and aid for things like rental assistance and replacement of household items. The fires destroyed 146 homes and damaged another 476. Nearly two-thirds were uninsured or underinsured.
“This is very disappointing news. This is the second time in as many years that we’ve been denied Individual Assistance following a major fire,” Inslee said. “We have homeowners that have lost everything. Despite the decision, I’m committed to helping our fellow Washingtonians and ensuring they get as much help and assistance as possible. It’s my priority to get these communities on the road to recovery.”
“As a native of Okanogan County, it is hard to overstate the heartbreak and the suffering the people of Northeast Washington have gone through the past two fire seasons,” said Peter Goldmark, Commissioner of Public Lands. “By refusing to help, FEMA is letting down communities that are in desperate need of assistance.”
To help local communities impacted by the 2015 fire season, the governor is forming a Wildland Fire Council. The Council will coordinate restoration and recovery efforts related to this year’s fires and assess plans, policies and resources related to wildfire preparedness, resiliency, response and recovery in Washington state. The group will be led by Goldmark, Director of the state Department of Commerce Brian Bonlender, and Major General Bret Daugherty of the Washington State Military Department. The council will prepare a preliminary report by July 1, 2016. The Council will hold its first meeting in early November.
In addition, the Washington State Department of Commerce is partnering with impacted cities and counties to direct Community Development Block Grant funds for emergency facilities, water system improvements, and disaster recovery services. The city of Brewster is receiving funding to construct an essential water reservoir for fire protection and to address drinking water needs. Okanogan and Chelan Counties are receiving funding for disaster recovery services to be provided by the regional community action councils. The Okanogan County Fire District # 15 is awarded $1 million to expand its ambulance and emergency medical services facility. Commerce is making an additional $4 million in Community Development Block Grants available for qualifying cities/towns and counties and is working with wildfire impacted cities such as Pateros, Twisp and others to leverage matching funds for essential facilities.
Inslee said while he is doing what he can to provide state assistance, he reiterated the need for FEMA and federal officials to reevaluate the criteria used in determining federal disaster assistance for individuals going forward.
“Last year I led the 19-state bipartisan Western Governors Association in calling for a reevaluation of these criteria. As our state works to support affected communities, I will continue to fight for greater federal support for disaster recovery, particularly as our state encounters hotter, drier and increasingly devastating fire seasons.”