Trump administration denies California relief for 6 fires

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Tens of thousands without power in California after wildfire blackout UPI16 Oct 2020

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - President Donald Trump's administration this week rejected California's request for disaster relief funds aimed at cleaning up the damage from six recent wildfires among the siege of deadly and destructive blazes that have scorched the state.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom formally submitted a letter to the White House on September 28 asking for a major disaster declaration, said Brian Ferguson, with the governors Office of Emergency Services.

In a statement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, press secretary Lizzie Litzow said that damage assessments conducted by the agency had determined that the fires last month " were not of such severity and magnitude to exceed the combined capabilities of the state, affected local governments, voluntary agencies and other responding federal agencies". Ultimately the state did receive federal assistance.

Neither he nor the White House gave details on why the administration shifted positions only hours after it initially denied the state's request for a declaration that officials said could provide the state with hundreds of millions of dollars.

He added: "What the state is looking for is the highest level of federal support, which requires the highest bars be cleared".

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Newsom formally submitted a letter to the White House and FEMA on September 28 asking for such a declaration and citing the fact that five of the six largest fires in California's recorded history have taken place this year.

Newsom also said funds would go toward helping rebuild public infrastructure, miles of roads, parks, signs and fire shelters.

He added, "Californians are exhausted".

The blaze that ravaged areas of Napa and Sonoma counties was contained Wednesday after destroying more than 1,500 homes and other buildings. So far, damage estimates include 856 structures.

The governor also noted the cash-strapped nature of the state, which is projecting a pandemic-induced $54.3-billion deficit this fiscal year.

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"The Governor and (GOP) Leader (Kevin) McCarthy spoke and presented a convincing case and additional on-the-ground perspective for reconsideration leading the President to approve the declaration", Deere said in a statement after Trump's change of heart.

Fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock said in a tweet that McCarthy told him "the President has committed to reverse FEMA's decision ... and help is on the way". Overall, the government kicked in $562.5 million for the project.

A declaration by the president makes people in impacted counties eligible for support such as crisis counseling, housing, unemployment assistance and legal services.

"While good progress has been made on a number of fires, this could hamper containment efforts", Mr Daniel Berlant, Cal Fire assistant deputy director, said on Twitter on Tuesday.

Smoke from the huge Creek Fire burning since September 4 in the central part of the state was still affecting air quality as far south as Los Angeles, the National Weather Service said.

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