(The Center Square) – Three congressional members from Washington state are urging President Biden to support Gov. Jay Inslee’s request for a “major disaster declaration” resulting from the devastating Gray and Oregon Road wildfires in Spokane County in mid-August.
Such a declaration is for any natural event which causes damage beyond the abilities of state and local governments to fully respond or address. A declaration by the president can trigger a wide range of federal aid programs for individuals and public infrastructure, including funds for both emergency and permanent work. Several steps are involved at the state and local level to qualify.
In a letter Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell said the two raging fires burned more than 22,484 acres, forced entire towns to evacuate, and destroyed over 710 structures including 366 homes.In addition to extensive physical damages, the fires “tragically claimed two lives,” the three members wrote in their letter to the president.
They expressed support for Inslee’s request, also on Wednesday, to help survivors recover from the fires which the governor said “destroyed more homes than any other fire in state history.”Inslee asked the president to make financial assistance for wildfire survivors available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Individual Assistance program. If approved, the program would provide money and direct services to eligible individuals and households who have uninsured or underinsured expenses and serious needs.
Last month, Spokane County officials were not optimistic about receiving FEMA funds for a “public assistance disaster” – monies used for damaged infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and electrical facilities. However, requests by the governor and congressional members could sway a decision on FEMA aid to individuals.
Also, Inslee asked for assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency with debris management and disposal, particularly to protect local waterways from contaminants.Inslee’s request follows prior aid from his office to Spokane County communities, including a $2.5 million emergency fund allocation for individual assistance plus testing and removal of debris for uninsured homeowners.