Politics & Government

FEMA reverses course on Rim fire declaration

President Barack Obama declared this summer’s Rim fire a major disaster Friday, reversing an earlier denial of aid following an appeal by Gov. Jerry Brown.

State officials included more current Rim fire damage estimates in Brown’s Dec. 3 appeal than in his original Oct. 8 letter requesting a presidential major disaster declaration. The Federal Emergency Management Agency rejected that request early last month.

Friday’s declaration frees up federal funding for the state, Tuolumne County and other local governments, as well as certain nonprofit groups. The money will pay for emergency work and repairs or replacement of roads and other structures damaged by the Rim fire.

“This is welcome news for those impacted by this devastating wildfire, and I’m thankful for FEMA’s careful reconsideration of the governor’s request,” Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said in a statement. “Even though the fire is out, the impacts to the local economy, environment and region haven’t gone away. We look forward to FEMA’s assistance in the important recovery work that has been under way since October.”

The Rim fire burned from Aug. 17 through Oct. 24, scorching more than 257,000 acres and becoming the third-largest wildfire in state history. It devastated the region’s Yosemite-based tourism industry and caused $54 million in damage, according to the latest estimates.

In its November denial, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the fire’s severity and magnitude did not justify a disaster declaration. The agency announced Friday’s reversal on its website without explaining the reasons for the change.

Obama’s order releases public-assistance money for Tuolumne County to pay for emergency work and the repair or replacement of fire-damaged roads and other facilities. San Francisco, which has water and power facilities in the Rim fire perimeter, would be eligible for some of the money.

In addition, all counties can apply for hazard-mitigation money to prevent long-term risks to life and property.