Federal Disaster Assistance Tops $6 Million: California Wildfire Recovery Is Underway

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Recovery from the Butte Fire in Calaveras County and Valley Fire in Lake County is underway. More than $6.1 million in state and federal assistance grants to individuals and households has been approved.

Destruction of most dwellings in the fire paths, plus the small town and rural nature of the areas creates a difficult challenge for finding temporary housing for survivors while they rebuild.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), the Butte Fire burned 70,868 acres and destroyed 475 homes. The Valley Fire burned 76,067 acres, destroyed 1,280 single-family homes and 27 multi-family residences. The worst of the Butte Fire was confined to Calaveras County and the worst of the Valley Fire was in Lake County.

Shelters sprang up in churches, casinos, a Moose Lodge and campgrounds, with the American Red Cross operating some, while others were managed by their hosts.

Even as the fires continued to burn, President Obama, at the request of California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., issued a major disaster declaration for the two most impacted counties, Calaveras and Lake.

Individuals and households were immediately able to begin registering for assistance from FEMA. To date, nearly $4.4 million for rental assistance, housing repair or replacement has been awarded to over 800 households and individuals as of close of business Wednesday, Oct. 7. Direct deposit into survivors’ bank accounts hastens assistance distribution when possible.

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Those who are uninsured and have unmet needs have received nearly $1.8 million so far from FEMA’s
Other Needs Assistance program (ONA) for replacement of basic personal property, including clothing, basic furnishings, medical equipment and even automobiles. California, through the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, bears 25 percent of those costs. ONA is limited to those without insurance and other resources to pay for their needs.

Personal contact with residents of the disaster areas to encourage and help them register with FEMA is conducted by the Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA) program. It is staffed by a combination of seasoned part-time “reservist” employees and members of FEMA Corps who range from 18 to 24 years of age.

Overall, the DSA staff have visited 1,068 homes and interacted with 4,043 survivors to assist them in registering with FEMA and providing them other essential information.

As of close of business Oct. 7, more than 3,000 individuals and households in the affected areas have contacted FEMA for recovery assistance or information. FEMA has telephone service at its three disaster recovery centers to enable survivors to register for FEMA assistance and/or set up appointments with inspectors. Telephone service has been interrupted in many areas.

FEMA housing inspectors have visited 1,944 dwellings to verify and record damage, which is 86 percent of those eligible for an inspection.

In addition to FEMA grants for individuals and families, other forms of disaster assistance are provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and other partner agencies such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. (FEMA will make referrals as needed.) All businesses that contact FEMA are referred to the SBA.

SBA low-interest disaster loans up to $200,000 are available to homeowners. Renters, as well as homeowners, are eligible for low-interest loans up to $40,000 to replace personal property. Businesses and private nonprofits can borrow up to $2 million at low interest rates to cover structural, inventory and economic losses.

Other federally-funded recovery programs including disaster unemployment assistance, crisis counseling and disaster legal services are being launched.

Because rental housing is scarce in both counties, FEMA is making Manufactured Housing Units (MHU) available to eligible registered survivors in the designated counties. For survivors with disabilities, some MHUs come equipped with modifications which could include a ramp.

Where conditions permit, an MHU may be placed on the survivor’s property. MHUs also can be placed in existing mobile home parks. If no other option within a reasonable commuting distance is available, an MHU group park established and maintained by FEMA may be constructed.

Occupancy of a MHU is limited to the time required to rebuild the original home or until permanent housing is found or to a maximum of 18 months. MHUs are manufactured to Department of Housing and Urban Development standards. Installation complies with local requirements including permits and inspections. The units include basic furnishings and equipment to make them livable upon move-in. Washers and dryers are not included, but connections are provided.

Federal partners have been tasked with special recovery missions suited to their expertise. Members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are assessing whether there are commercial sites available where MHUs could be installed for survivors’ use. Experts from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are recovering and properly disposing of household hazardous waste remaining after the fires.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development branch has several assistance programs that may benefit some survivors of the Valley and Butte fires.
Homeowners age 62 and older may be eligible for disaster assistance grants up to $7,500 and loans up to $20,000.
Rural Housing Direct Loan Program provides loans to low-income individuals for home purchase or repairs.
Existing USDA borrowers who lost jobs or had hours reduced as a result of the fires might qualify for payment reductions, payment moratorium or other arrangements.
Contact the USDA at 707-526-6797, extension 102 or 107 for information on any of these programs.

All emergency shelters have been closed.

There have been approximately 1,750 combined visits made to three disaster recovery centers in San Andreas, Clearlake and Middletown. Two additional disaster recovery centers will open Friday, Oct. 9, in Calaveras County in the communities of Mountain Ranch and Rail Road Flat. The mobile DRCs are operated by Cal OES and FEMA in partnership with the county and local agencies.

Locations for all DRCs, including the two new locations are:

  • Calaveras County: The Calaveras County Disaster Recovery Center in San Andreas
    891 Mountain Ranch Rd., San Andreas, CA 95249
  • The Calaveras County Disaster Recovery Center in Mountain Ranch
    7867 Whiskey Slide Rd., Mountain Ranch, CA 95246
  • The Calaveras County Disaster Recovery Center in Rail Road Flat
    250 Railroad Flat Rd., Rail Road Flat, CA 95248
  • Lake County: The Lake County Disaster Recovery Center in Clearlake
    14860 Olympic Dr., Clearlake, CA 95422
  • The Lake County Disaster Recovery Center in Middletown
    21256 Washington St., Middletown, CA 95461

Hours of operation for all DRC locations are:JvJoPlBQ_mbcb1sq21AyJD1Bg5ig_z8SGnwkBxb4NeE,CGTksvpMm2lufFggxlQjkmPlBtz658trDrhS0hWf8Ok
Monday–Friday: 8 a.m.– 6 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Sunday: Noon – 4 p.m.

All DRCs are equipped with assistive technologies to help survivors with disabilities register for assistance. FEMA equipped each center with accessibility kits to ensure all people have full access to FEMA information and assistance programs.

The kits include devices to help people with a range of disabilities such as assistive listening devises, materials in large print and Braille. American Sign Language Interpreters are available upon request. If you need assistance, just ask.

Survivors can apply for FEMA assistance online at DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 800-621-3362; TTY 800-462-7585; 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 800-621-3362.

The SBA is the federal government’s primary source of money for the long-term rebuilding of disaster-damaged private property. SBA helps businesses of all sizes, private non-profit organizations, homeowners and renters fund repairs or rebuilding efforts and cover the cost of replacing lost or disaster-damaged personal property. These disaster loans cover losses not fully compensated by insurance or other sources and do not duplicate benefits of other agencies or organizations. For more information, applicants may contact SBA’s Disaster Assistance Customer Service Center by calling 800-659-2955, emailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov, or visiting SBA’s website at SBA.gov. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals may call 800-877-8339.

For updated information on California’s wildfire recovery, survivors may visit: caloes.ca.gov or beta.fema.gov/disaster/4240 and follow us on Twitter@femaregion9 and at Facebook.com/FEMA.

FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from and mitigate all hazards.

Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362).

If you have a speech disability or hearing loss and use a TTY, call 800-462-7585 directly; if you use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 800-621-3362. FEMA has made it a priority to reach survivors who need help – including people with disabilities and/or access and functional needs, senior citizens and people with limited English proficiency.

FEMA’s temporary housing assistance and grants for public transportation expenses, medical and dental expenses, and funeral and burial expenses do not require individuals to apply for an SBA loan. However, applicants who are referred to SBA for a disaster loan must apply to be eligible for additional FEMA assistance that covers personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses.

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Robb Mayberry

Robb Mayberry is a Public Information Officer for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. He has assisted in the response and recovery efforts with some of California’s worst disasters, including the San Refugio Oil Spill, the Valley and Butte Wildfires, Aliso Canyon Gas Leak, Erskine Fire, and the Winters Storms of 2017. Prior to public service, he spent 25 years managing the public and media relations for some of Northern California’s largest healthcare organizations.

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