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Trump administration rejects California's request for wildfire disaster assistance

October 16, 2020 - 6:26 am
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By MORGAN WINSOR, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The federal government has denied California's request for a disaster declaration for wildfires that have burned swathes of land across the U.S. state since early September.

A spokesperson for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services confirmed to ABC News on Thursday evening that their request for a major presidential disaster declaration, which would release federal funding, was rejected by the Trump administration. The state plans to appeal the decision and believes California meets the federal requirements for aid. In the meantime, officials are looking for other avenues for federal assistance to support wildfire victims, the spokesperson said.

It was unclear why the Trump administration denied California's request. ABC News has reached out to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for comment.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom penned a letter to President Donald Trump on Sept. 28 seeking the disaster declaration for several blazes, including the Creek Fire, the largest wildfire in the state's history, which has burned at least 341,722 acres across Fresno and Madera counties, as well as the Bobcat Fire, which has burned at least 115,796 acres in the Angeles National Forest in Los Angeles County. Newsom said the fires have collectively torched over 1.8 million acres across seven counties and have destroyed more than 3,000 structures, including nearly 1,000 homes. The infrastructure damage estimates exceed $229 million, he said.

"The severity and magnitude of these fires continue to cause significant impacts to the State and to the affected local jurisdictions, such that the recovery efforts remain beyond the State's capabilities," the governor wrote. "Many of the counties impacted by these wildfires are still recovering from previous devastating wildfires, storms, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic."

Newsom estimated potential federal assistance at $346 million.

"Federal assistance is critical to support physical and economic recovery of California and its communities," he wrote. "The longer it takes for California and its communities to recover, the more severe, devastating, and irreversible the economic impacts will be."

Last year, Trump threatened to cut federal aid for California's wildfires, after Newsom criticized the president's environmental policies during an interview with The New York Times. Trump blamed the Democratic governor for the state's blazes, saying he had done a "terrible job of forest management."

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