President Bush on Monday declared a state of emergency in California and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the counties of Butte, Mendocino, Monterey, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta and Trinity, which were struck by wildfires beginning June 20. This does not include federal relief for those affected by the Summit and Humboldt Fires that began in May and early June.
Specifically, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been authorized to identify, mobilize and provide, at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the effects of the recent emergencies. Emergency protective measures, limited to direct federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent federal funding.
The president’s declaration was in response to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s request for direct federal assistance, debris removal and emergency protective measures, including air and ground firefighting resources, evacuation operations and sheltering of displaced people and animals.
Santa Barbara County’s Office of Emergency Services is not activated, but it remains alert and is actively monitoring the statewide situation, according to William Boyer, communications director for the county.
Henry Renteria, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, on Monday responded to Bush’s declaration of emergency.
“The federal government has been a terrific partner all across the state and is providing a number of federal resources, but we need even more help, which is why Gov. Schwarzenegger asked the president to declare a federal emergency, so California can obtain additional firefighting resources and assistance with evacuation, sheltering and recovery needs,” Renteria said.
“The governor’s administration is thankful that the president has recognized that our response is beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments, and that additional federal assistance is necessary to save lives and protect property, public health and safety. I am concerned, however, that this declaration is limited to direct federal assistance and does not provide financial assistance to our state and local emergency response agencies who are incurring extraordinary costs in fighting these fires and helping the thousands of Californians who have suffered unimaginable loss and damages.
“I have directed my staff to work closely with FEMA to seek additional federal resources and assistance to ensure that we are doing everything we can to help our firefighters and local communities impacted by these unprecedented wildfires.”
California is experiencing a nearly unprecedented number of wildfires, with more than 1,000 fires ignited by lightning. There are 30 major wildfire complexes actively burning in 16 California counties. More than 308,000 acres have burned, and most of the major fires are less than 20 percent contained.
The wildfires have resulted in serious injuries to emergency personnel and others. Nearly 300 homes already have been damaged or destroyed, and numerous businesses and public landmarks have been destroyed or damaged. Also, several thousand people have been evacuated from their homes since the wildfires began in May.
On Thursday, Gov. Schwarzenegger sent a letter to President Bush through Nancy Ward, regional administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, requesting that the president expeditiously declare an emergency for California.
Also on Thursday, the governor proclaimed a state of emergency in Mendocino and Shasta counties as a result of lightning strikes that ignited more than 230 wildfires in those counties. He also announced $20 million for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to cover the costs of the Humboldt and Ophir Fires in Butte County in early June. To help the victims of the Ophir and Humboldt Fires in Butte County and the Martin Fire in Santa Cruz County, the governor on Sunday signed an executive order to waive fees and assist with recovery efforts.
On Monday, Gov. Schwarzenegger proclaimed a state of emergency in Monterey and Trinity counties as a result of the Basin Complex Fire, Gallery Fire and Lime Complex Fire.
For more information on these fires, visit www.oes.ca.gov or www.fire.ca.gov.
Californians throughout the state are volunteering time and resources to help communities cope with the fires. To learn more, visit California Volunteers at www.californiavolunteers.org.
William Boyer is communications director for Santa Barbara County.