FEMA says no to more Rim Fire aid

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied to continue fire relief aid to Tuolumne County for the Rim Fire.

According to a letter sent this week to the office of Gov. Jerry Brown from FEMA officials, the federal agency declined to extend a major disaster declaration to the state of California for the fire that raged in August and September in the Stanislaus National Forest.

That means those affected by the fire will not be eligible for aid money through the Federal Emergency Agency and will be left to state and local resources.

"Based on our review of all of the information available, it has been determined that the damage from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state and affected local governments," FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate stated in a letter to the governor's office.

County Administrator Craig Pedro said Tuesday that the fire - the state's third largest on record, standing at 257,314 acres - cost government entities about $71 million for response and damage to infrastructure like roads. However, Pedro said the FEMA calculation for damage did not include federal aid for law enforcement as part of the fire response. That put the damage total under the threshold for continued federal aid, he said.

The state extended an emergency declaration for the fire, and the county is working with businesses and other local leaders to find relief aid from state and other federal sources. According to the letter, the state can appeal the decision.

"I can tell you that (the California Office of Emergency Services), they are assessing that," he said.

Pedro did share some good news for local Rim Fire recovery. The county likely will get help from the U.S. Forest Service, Yosemite National Park and possibly other agencies to improve a county-owned bridge on Evergreen Road in the burned area.

The bridge, which crosses Ackerson Creek, is on the main road to popular sites like the Evergreen Lodge and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

Pedro said the bridge needs replacement after the fire because of expected increase in flood water and all impacted agencies will likely contribute some funding to the $250,000 project.

"Everyone sees the urgency and the importance associated with this repair," Pedro said.

The Union Democrat
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