It’s been six months since the October 2017 wildfires ravaged Northern California. Through coordination with California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and in close partnership with FEMA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. EPA, Cal EPA and CalRecycle, all major work for the removal of fire and ash debris has now been completed in Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Sonoma and Yuba counties. So far, nearly 1.7 million tons of debris, across all seven counties, have been removed.
Since the Oct. 10 disaster declaration, nearly 4,500 households have been approved for FEMA individual assistance, for a total of more than $15.7 million. Of this amount, more than $9.6 million has been approved for housing assistance that can assist with home repairs or replacement, rental assistance to be used to find another place to live temporarily while repairs are being made to their home and more than $6.1 million for other needs assistance. Other needs assistance is a grant to pay for other uninsured or underinsured expenses such as disaster-related medical, dental or funeral costs or personal property losses. The U.S. Small Business Administration is another partner agency that plays an integral role in disaster recovery. The SBA provided assistance to businesses of all sizes, private nonprofits, homeowners and renters in the form of low-interest disaster loans. The SBA has approved nearly 1,200 loans for homeowners, renters and businesses for more than $151 million.
We caught up with Assistant Fire Marshall Paul Lowenthal of the Santa Rosa Fire Department to talk with him about the challenges he and his community faced, what he and his department have learned and what changes have come into play in the short six months since the fires broke-out.