Published: Sat, October 17, 2020
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Trump administration rejects California's request for wildfire disaster assistance

Trump administration rejects California's request for wildfire disaster assistance

United States President Donald Trump approved California's request for additional wildfire recovery relief, reversing his administration's earlier denial after intervention from the state's governor and a key Republican lawmaker.

A firetruck drives along state Highway 168 while battling the Creek Fire in the Shaver Lake community of Fresno County, Calif., last month.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom formally submitted a letter to the White House on September 28 asking for a major disaster declaration, said Brian Ferguson, with the governor's Office of Emergency Services.

In a statement Friday, deputy press secretary Judd Deere highlighted other areas the federal government had provided assistance to California during its historic fire season. One state official told the L.A. Times that the amount of aid California would need following this year's fires wouldn't be known for some time and could easily reach in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

As the Chronicle reports, President Trump - who has previously okayed disaster aid for California fires - apparently agreed with FEMA's assessment (or directed it). But it's worth noting that the Constitution's tenth amendment prohibits the federal government from conditioning aid to states on their agreement with the administration's politics.

"The more recent and separate California submission was not supported by the relevant data that States must provide for approval and the President concurred with the FEMA Administrator's recommendation", Deere said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency issued a decision Thursday denying a major disaster declaration for six wildfires across the state, saying that damage from the six blazes didn't meet a threshold of severity for the declaration. No specific reason for the denial was released by administration officials. The White House said Trump quickly approved wildfire relief that was supported by damage estimates.

Gusty winds in California's north and extreme heat in its south are creating conditions that could fan wildfires that began earlier in the summer as well as spark new ones, leading state and federal authorities to urge residents to prepare.

All electricity was expected to be restored by late Friday, PG&E said. According to Newsom, as of September 28, 959 residences were destroyed by fires and 90 more were damaged, totaling an estimated $264,289,200.

The utility better targeted outages this time after it was criticized in 2019 for cutting power to about 800,000 customers and leaving about 2 million people in the dark for days.

The biggest is the August Complex fire, which began Aug. 16 and as of October 15 had burned just over 1 million acres through seven Northern California counties and was 77% contained.

The causes of two fires that broke out in September remain under investigation. PG&E equipment is being examined in connection with the Zogg Fire in Northern California, and Southern California Edison equipment is under scrutiny in the Bobcat Fire near Los Angeles.

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