FEMA Sends Team of Disaster Experts to Calif. to Assist Firefighting Efforts
San Francisco Chronicle
Oct. 14—The federal government has dispatched one of the largest teams of disaster experts that California has seen in recent years to assist with the state's firefighting efforts—and what promises to be a long and expensive recovery in many spots.
Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Friday that representatives from nearly a dozen agencies, from the Department of Defense to Health and Human Services, have joined state officials near Sacramento to assess California's emergency needs and respond to them. FEMA also has consultants working in at least eight badly burned counties covered by President Trump's declaration of emergency earlier this week, including hard-hit Napa and Sonoma.
In addition to offering emergency funds for fire departments and residents who have lost a home or business, FEMA has sent several truckloads of supplies to people displaced by the fires—an estimated 60,000 liters of water, 40,000 prepared meals, 40,000 blankets and 20,000 cots, officials said. The agency is also delivering generators and mobile communications equipment.
Most of the rations have come from warehouses maintained in the Bay Area for such emergencies, but already 20 tractor-trailers are en route from several eastern states in case more supplies are needed.
"Better to have them on hand now then to say later, 'Gee, they're three days away,'" said FEMA spokesman Frank Mansell.
FEMA teams have often assisted with California wildfires. Agency representatives also were on hand last winter when several counties experienced destructive flooding during heavy rainstorms. But the current response is one of the largest.
Since late Sunday, a series of wind-whipped fires in Northern California has blackened 220,000 acres—about 330 square miles—while killing at least 35 people and destroying thousands of homes. Most of the damage has been in Napa and Sonoma counties, with Santa Rosa among the worst-hit spots.
While FEMA's role so far has been to help assure that those who have lost a home are fed, clothed and sheltered, once the fires are out, the agency expects to assist with cleanup and rebuilding. It also plans to draw on the technical expertise of officials from the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.
FEMA will soon begin providing public assistance grants to communities that need to rebuild, which will pay 75 percent of the cost of constructing new infrastructure.
The agency has already approved grants to offset local firefighting costs at 10 of the recent wildfires, including the ones in Napa and Sonoma counties. FEMA representatives also have begun providing direct aid to residents and businesses in Napa and Sonoma.
The agency is working out of the State Operations Center in Mather (Sacramento County), which was activated to its highest emergency level this week by the Governor's Office of Emergency Services.
"The Federal Emergency Management Agency has responded promptly to assist California in fighting these terrible fires," Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement. "I appreciate the fast response from the president."