USA — The federal government this week rejected Gov. Jerry Brown’s request to help pay for damage caused by the Rim Fire, leaving the state and the small Sierra communities that suffered in the blaze on the hook for potentially tens of millions of dollars.
In a letter sent to the governor Monday, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said California’s third-largest wildfire was not severe enough to qualify as a federal disaster. As a result, Tuolumne and Mariposa counties won’t get financial aid to repair roads, water systems and other damaged infrastructure.
Brown sought the disaster declaration in October, after the fire had burned from the small community of Groveland into the western stretches of Yosemite National Park.
It shut down park roads and prompted visitors to cancel vacations, while destroying 11 homes and dozens of other buildings, including the city of Berkeley’s Tuolumne Camp. In all, Brown estimated losses exceeding $70 million.
“We belive this disaster rises to the level of a federal disaster,” said Kelly Huston, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. Without the declaration, “we have to make the repairs within the budget we have and prioritize the things that are essential and figure out what can be delayed.”
The state has 30 days to appeal the decision, which Huston said the governor would do. Huston expects the damage count to rise since communities have had time to further assess losses.
The Rim Fire, which began Aug. 17 in the Stanislaus National Forest and burned more than 400 square miles, was caused by a hunter who lit an illegal campfire, authorities said.
The hunter’s identity has not been released, and no charges have been filed in the case.