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Trump reverses course and grants California’s wildfire disaster declaration request

US-FIRE
Allison Dinner/AFP/Getty Images
The Trump administration has rejected California's disaster assistance request for wildfires. This image shows a firefighter putting out hot spots from the Zogg fire in Igo on September 27, 2020.

(CNN) UPDATE 10/16/2020 1:20 p.m. President Donald Trump approved California's request for a presidential disaster declaration to help combat the state's record-setting wildfires, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday, a day after the administration initially rejected the request.

"Just got off the phone with President Trump who has approved our Major Disaster Declaration request. Grateful for his quick response," Newsom said in a statement Friday.

The back and forth comes after the White House said Thursday that California's request for a presidential major disaster declaration was rejected because it was "not supported by the relevant data." Thirty-one people have died as a result of the wildfires and more than 9,200 structures have been destroyed.

CNN has reached out to the White House for comment following Newsom's announcement.

Newsom, a Democrat, requested financial aid from the federal government in a September 28 letter to the Trump administration outlining the effect of the wildfires.

Writing that infrastructure damage estimates exceeded $229 million, Newsom asserted that "federal assistance is critical to support physical and economic recovery of California and its communities."

"The longer it takes for California and its communities to recover, the more severe, devastating, and irreversible the economic impacts will be," he said.

Trump approved California's prior request for a disaster declaration for the coronavirus pandemic in March, according to a White House news release.

That declaration meant the state could receive federal assistance to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts to areas affected by the coronavirus outbreak, the release said. It also provided federal funding for crisis counseling for all those affected in California.

Since the beginning of this fire season, more than 8,500 wildfires have burned well over 4.1 million acres across the state, Cal Fire said in a press release on Thursday.

Recent fires included in the disaster declaration request were the Creek Fire, the largest wildfire in the state's history, which has scorched 341,722 acres across Fresno and Madera counties; the Bobcat Fire, which has burned 115,796 acres in Los Angeles County; and the El Dorado Fire, which was sparked by a gender reveal party in San Bernardino County over Labor Day weekend.

PREVIOUS STORY: The Trump administration has rejected California's request for a disaster declaration for six destructive wildfires that burned hundreds of thousands of acres across the state, including a massive central California wildfire that has become the single largest in state history.

"The request for a Major Presidential Disaster Declaration for early September fires has been denied by the federal administration," Brian Ferguson, a spokesperson for the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, confirmed to CNN. The state plans to appeal the decision.

The denial comes after California Gov. Gavin Newsom requested financial aid from the federal government in a September 28 letter to the Trump administration outlining the financial impact of the wildfires.

Writing that infrastructure damage estimates exceeded $229 million, Newsom asserted that "federal assistance is critical to support physical and economic recovery of California and its communities."

"The longer it takes for California and its communities to recover, the more severe, devastating, and irreversible the economic impacts will be," he said.

Recent fires included in the disaster declaration request were the Creek Fire, the largest wildfire in the state's history, which has scorched 341,722 acres across Fresno and Madera counties, the Bobcat Fire, which has burned 115,796 acres in Los Angeles County, and the El Dorado Fire, which was sparked by a gender reveal party in San Bernardino County over Labor Day weekend.

The three other wildfires in the request were the Valley Fire in San Diego County, the Oak Fire in Mendocino County and the Slater Fire in Siskiyou County.

The White House said California's request for a presidential major disaster declaration was rejected because it was "not supported by the relevant data."

In a statement Friday, deputy press secretary Judd Deere highlighted other areas the federal government had provided assistance to California during its historic fire season.

"This summer, President Trump quickly approved wildfire relief for the State of California that was supported by damage estimates. In fact, this week the President made additional disaster assistance available to California by authorizing an increase in the level of Federal funding to 100% for debris removal and emergency protective measures undertaken as a result of the wildfires, beginning August 14, 2020, and continuing," Deere wrote in a statement.

"The more recent and separate California submission was not supported by the relevant data that States must provide for approval and the President concurred with the FEMA Administrator's recommendation," the statement read.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency told CNN in a statement Friday that damage assessments "determined that the early September fires 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."

"FEMA approved four Fire Management Assistance Grants in five counties for wildfires included in the state's disaster request, allowing reimbursement to state, local governments and other eligible agencies for 75 percent of firefighting, evacuation and sheltering costs," FEMA spokeswoman Lizzie Litzow said in the statement.

Since the beginning of this fire season, more than 8,500 wildfires have burned well over 4.1 million acres across the state, Cal Fire said in a press release on Thursday. Thirty-one people died as a result of the wildfires and more than 9,200 structures have been destroyed.

The Trump administration's decision falls in line with the President's combative history with the reliably Democratic state.

During a visit last month, Trump refused to acknowledge the effects the climate crisis is having on California's forest fires and instead continued to highlight the need for better forest management to clear dead trees that can serve as fuel for the fires.

When Wade Crowfoot, the secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency warned of the dangers of ignoring science and putting "our head in the sand and thinking that it's all about vegetation management," Trump responded by telling Crowfoot: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch."

"I wish science agreed with you," Crowfoot told him.

California News / Top Stories / Wildfires

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