When wildfires cause massive devastation to the extent that it warrants a proclamation of a State of Emergency by the Governor and a Disaster Declaration by the President, access to available resources is crucial to response and recovery. Such is the case of the Valley Fire in Lake County and the Butte Fire in Calaveras County this summer, which combined, burned more than 145,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,700 homes and are in the thick of recovery.
Not only does a Disaster Declaration by the President demonstrate the severity of the disaster, it also opens the door to important federal/FEMA resources such as Individual Assistance (IA) and Public Assistance (PA). IA and PA are both important to help communities recover and builds upon the assistance and resources already provided by the state.
The Governor initially requested IA but as recovery efforts continued and as fire containment increased and the magnitude of debris removal was assessed, it was determined PA was necessary to expedite help to the counties and also assist them with debris removal.
Both IA and PA are important and provide different types of assistance and further help with the efforts to deal with the effects of the fires.
Individual Assistance helps homeowners and renters recover from a disaster. It provides financial help or direct assistance to those with disaster-related expenses and serious needs and is designed to bridge the gap between insurance and other help the individual is already receiving. IA can help with temporary housing assistance, repairing homes, rebuilding, personal property losses and what insurance doesn’t cover. Help may also include rental assistance, repair, medical, dental, funeral, personal property, transportation, moving and storage. U.S. Small Business Administration low-interest disaster loans may also be available for eligible applicants.
Public Assistance provides grants to state and local governments, tribal organizations and certain private nonprofits for disaster response and recovery. Public Assistance provides financial reimbursement for costs associated with eligible debris removal, emergency protective measures, repairs to roads and bridges, water control facilities, city-and county-owned buildings and equipment, utilities, parks and recreational facilities, and certain hazard mitigation measures.
Typically, private property owners are responsible for removal of debris after a disaster but when the magnitude of the disaster creates an enormous amount of debris, it is in the public’s interest to remove this debris expeditiously in order to eliminate threats to life, public health, and safety and to ensure economic recovery of the affected community. In this disaster, CalRecycle has been tasked with debris removal responsibilities. Until the debris is properly removed, homeowners will not be able to return to their properties safely to begin the rebuilding process.
Recovery efforts began when Governor Brown executed all resources within his power to support the response and recovery efforts when he proclaimed a state of emergency in Calaveras, Amador, Napa and Lake Counties in September. The State of Emergency directed state agencies to support the response and recovery efforts and helped fire survivors with waiving fees for documents. The Governor also advanced funds to Lake and Calaveras counties from the California Disaster Assistance Act (CDAA) fund for response and recovery efforts.
CDAA authorizes the Director of Cal OES to administer a disaster assistance program that provides financial assistance from the state for costs incurred by local governments as a result of a disaster event. Funding for the repair, restoration, or replacement of public real property damaged or destroyed by a disaster was made available. The program also provides for the reimbursement of local government costs associated with certain emergency activities undertaken in response to a state of emergency proclaimed by the Governor.
The fires are fully contained but the recovery process is a long road. Damage and cost assessments to recover are still ongoing. So far, almost $17 million in federal assistance has been disbursed to fire survivors.
The Governor of California and the Federal government have made all resources within their power available to help with these communities recover. The outpour of help and access to resources from all levels of government, private organizations, non-profits, and the public, has been tremendous and instrumental in helping Lake and Calaveras Counties recover from this devastating fire.