Federal Government Rejects California Request for Wildfire Disaster Assistance: Spokesman

October 16, 2020 Updated: October 16, 2020

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said the federal government rejected his state’s request for a disaster declaration after six wildfires that ripped through the state earlier in the year.

“The request for a Major Presidential Disaster Declaration for early September fires has been denied by the federal administration,” Brian Ferguson, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, told CNN. He also confirmed the decision to the Los Angeles Times, adding that it’s not clear why the federal government denied the request.

The White House has not responded to a request for comment.

Ferguson told the LA Times that an exact amount was not requested because “the true cost won’t be known for months or years afterward.” He added: “What the state is looking for is the highest level of federal support, which requires the highest bars be cleared. But we feel our case for those requirements has been met.”

On Sept. 28, Newsom, a Democrat, wrote a letter (pdf) to President Donald Trump to request a disaster declaration, which would mean that federal funds will be released.

“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.” Newsom said that wildfire damages exceeded $229 million.

“The longer it takes for California and its communities to recover, the more severe, devastating, and irreversible the economic impacts will be,” Newsom said.

Embers light up a hillside behind the Bidwell Bar Bridge
Embers light up a hillside behind the Bidwell Bar Bridge as the Bear Fire burns in Oroville, Calif., on Sept. 9, 2020. (Noah Berger/AP Photo)

Some of the counties that were impacted in last year’s wildfires are still recovering, Newsom said. He said the disaster funds would go to rebuilding or repairing infrastructure, roads, parks, signs, and more.

President Donald Trump said he would withhold federal dollars to California over wildfires, saying the state needs to better manage its forests.

“This is one of the biggest burns we’ve ever seen and we have to do a lot about forest management. Obviously forest management in California is very important, and now it extends to Washington and extends also to Oregon,” Trump said before meeting with Newsom last month.

About a year ago, in the midst of wildfires, Trump wrote that the state “has done a terrible job of forest management,” adding that he told Newsom “from the first day we met that he must ‘clean’ his forest floors regardless of what his bosses, the environmentalists, DEMAND of him. Must also do burns and cut fire stoppers.”