JUNIPER HILLS — The Trump administration reversed course Friday a day after it rejected California’s request for a federal disaster declaration amid the worst wildfire season in the state’s recorded history.
“Just got off the phone with President Trump who has approved our Major Disaster Declaration request. Grateful for his quick response,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a brief statement.
White House spokesman Judd Deere previously said California’s request “was not supported by the relevant data” needed for approval. He initially said Trump agreed with Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Pete Gaynor, who said in a three-paragraph rejection letter that the damage “was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the (state’s) capabilities.”
“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 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.” Both congressmen represent areas harmed by wildfires.
Republican Rep. Mike Garcia, who represents Antelope Valley communities harmed by the Lake and Bobcat fires also sent a letter of support.
“I am proud that I sent a letter to President Trump in support of CA’s request for disaster relief. I’m glad the President decided to reverse FEMA’s decision clearing a path for disaster relief,” Garcia tweeted Friday.
The Bobcat Fire burning in the Angeles National Forest was 92% Friday after burning 115,796 acres. The fire destroyed 171 structures, including 87 residences, and damaged 47 structures, including 28 residences. The Nature Center at the Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area was destroyed, according to Los Angeles County parks officials.
McCarthy was in contact with President Trump and Newsom about the situation earlier Friday afternoon. He is working with McClintock, Garcia and Doug LaMalfa to ensure that Californians get the assistance they need and deserve, according to a Garcia spokeswoman.
California had planned to appeal the denial and believed it had a strong case, Brian Ferguson, a spokesman with the governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said before the reversal.
Newsom asked for the major disaster declaration on Sept. 28 to cover fires in Fresno, Los Angeles, Madera, Mendocino, San Bernardino, San Diego and Siskiyou counties.
The 30-page request described the disasters and pointed out that damage assessments were incomplete because the fires were still raging and access was difficult.
Federal major disaster declarations allow for cost-sharing for damage, cleanup and rebuilding between the state and federal governments. They also activate relief programs led by FEMA.
The dispute surfaced as a representative of one fire-stricken area warned that time was running out to clean up debris before rain and snow arrived, bringing the threat of mudslides and toxins being washed into a river watershed.