Obama Admin. Refuses to Declare Yarnell Fire ‘Disaster,’ Denies Aid

Via USA Today:

PHOENIX — Federal officials Friday denied Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s request to declare the Yarnell Hill Fire a disaster, saying it was “not of such severity and magnitude” to warrant additional federal aid.

Brewer said she was “deeply troubled” by the decision and questioned the sincerity of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, “who pledged to support our state during its time of great need.”

“With today’s denial of the state’s request, Arizonans are left questioning what help they were willing to give,” the governor said in a statement.

Brewer requested the disaster designation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on July 9 to provide money for residents displaced by the deadly blaze and bring a team of experts to mitigate post-fire flooding.

In a letter to Brewer, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said state, local communities and volunteer agencies were capable of helping uninsured homeowners replace and rebuild their homes.

FEMA spokesman Dan Watson said the disaster agency considers a number of factors, including insurance coverage, in assessing requests for aid.

“FEMA, by law, cannot duplicate benefits provided by insurance companies or other federal agencies,” Watson said. “In this case … it was determined that the damage to uninsured private residents from this event was not beyond the response and recovery capabilities of the state/local governments, and voluntary agencies.”

The decision came just hours after Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake sent a sharply worded letter to Obama, saying the administration had been dragging its feet while a grieving community waited in hope.

After FEMA’s announcement, the senators issues a joint statement.

“The people of Yarnell waited a full month to receive word that federal assistance is not coming,” they said. “It is a shame that FEMA couldn’t find it within their mission to help rebuild their homes and lives.”

Brewer pressed Obama on the matter when he visited Phoenix on Tuesday, and her office said the president vowed to “look into it.”

The state has 30 days to appeal the denial. The governor said she is considering it.

“The state will review its options regarding an appeal of this misguided decision,” Brewer said. “We will continue to do everything in our power to assist in that effort. Rest assured, that is a pledge that will not be broken.”

Nineteen wildland firefighters were killed fighting the blaze, which destroyed 108 homes and damaged another 23 in the small high-desert community.

State House Speaker Andy Tobin, whose district includes the communities of Yarnell and Peeple’s Valley, said he was disgusted by FEMA’s denial.

“This isn’t right,” Tobin said. “This is wholly inadequate, and wholly unprofessional for this president to have done this. I couldn’t be more disgusted.”

Asked what options uninsured homeowners might have, Tobin said: “At the end of the day, maybe the best they can possibly hope for is a trailer moved on to the site. Or they could sell what’s left of their dirt and their home for next to nothing and go rent something.”

Tobin urged the state’s congressional delegation to urge the Obama administration to reconsider.

FEMA said additional federal resources are available, including loans through the Small Business Administration, the departments of Housing and Urban Development, and Agriculture.

Brewer and Obama spoke July 1 about the Yarnell Hill Fire and the deaths of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. According to a White House statement at the time, the president promised to provide “the necessary federal support” to the state and local community.

The governor requested a federal disaster designation for the Yarnell blaze July 9, and on July 12 provided additional details requested by federal officials.

Brewer’s office estimated individual assistance needs at $2.2 million to help residents repair or replace their homes and pay for temporary housing.

Over the past 10 years, Arizona has received about $57.5 million in federal disaster aid, mainly to repair roads, bridges and other infrastructure damaged by storms and flooding, according to the Arizona Division of Emergency Management.