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California’s Request for Wildfire Disaster Declaration Denied

FEMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Trump administration on Wednesday amended the August declaration it granted the state for an earlier set of fires, expanding funding for debris removal and other aid.

A burned out car along Fallen Leaf drive where the CZU Lightning complex fire tore through earlier in the week, on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020 in Boulder Creek, Calif. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Oct. 16-- In a blow that could hamper California's access to funding for wildfire relief, the Trump administration has denied the state's request for a disaster declaration related to six wildfires from September.
Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said the administraton could not provide a reason for the denial, though he said it would appeal the decision to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"The state plans to appeal the decision and believes we have a strong case that California's request meets the federal requirements for approval," Ferguson wrote in an email.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, in a Sept. 28 letter to the Trump administration, requested major assistance to help the state rebuild communities hit by six fires, including the Creek Fire that continues burning and has destroyed more than 850 structures in Fresno and Madera counties. The fire also led to the evacuation of hundreds of trapped campers over the Labor Day weekend.
"Californians are exhausted," Newsom wrote. "Many of the counties impacted by these wildfires are still recovering from previous devastating wildfires, storms, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic."
The Creek Fire, which was 52% contained on Thursday, has destroyed more than 341,700 acres.
Newsom's letter estimates that the cost of damage for the fires could exceed $364 million, including efforts to repair destroyed roads and remove hazardous tress. The letter also includes the Oak Fire in Mendocino County and Bobcat Fire in Los Angeles County.
'Federal assistance is critical to support physical and economic recovery of California and its communities," Newsom wrote. "The longer it takes for California and its communities to recover, the more severe, devastating, and irreversible the economic impacts will be."
The governor sent his request the day after the Glass Fire ignited in Napa and Sonoma counties, and damage related to the fire is not included in his estimate. The Glass Fire, now 97% contained, has since destroyed more than 1,550 structures and torched more than 67,480 acres.
FEMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Trump administration on Wednesday amended the August declaration it granted the state for an earlier set of fires, expanding funding for debris removal and other aid.
However, it was not clear Thursday if that amendment to the earlier declaration would impact damage from later fires included in the Sept. 28 request.
Trump has sparred with California officials in recent months over the extent to which climate change has contributed to recent fires. He has threatened to withhold federal disaster aid from the state in the past.
The Trump administration has denied other states' requests for aid, including Texas for 2019 tornado damage and Minnesota following the George Floyd protests.
Chronicle Staff Writer Lauren Hernández contributed to this report.
Dustin Gardiner is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @dustingardiner
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