FEMA: October California Wildfires Two Month Recovery Update

  • In October 2017, as the California wildfires were still burning, personnel from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had boots on the ground to assure that survivors would get the help they needed as quickly as possible.
  • When the state’s request for a major disaster declaration was granted Oct. 10, FEMA was ready to help with Mobile Emergency Response Support (MERS). The MERS mission provided mobile telecommunications, operations support, power generation and life support for the on-site management of disaster response activities: https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/videos/147477 
  • For the past two months, Cal OES, FEMA and U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) recovery specialists have worked in burned-out communities, on the phone, and at Local Assistance Centers and Disaster Recovery Centers, listening to applicants’ concerns and helping them apply for assistance. By law, federal disaster assistance cannot duplicate insurance coverage, but through FEMA’s Individual Assistance (IA) program more than 4,000 eligible Californians and their families will receive grants to help put them on the road to recovery. 
  • As of Dec. 7, nearly $13.2 million has been approved in IA grants and more than $81 million has been approved by SBA for low-interest disaster loans for homeowners, renters and business owners. The registration deadline for disaster assistance is Monday, Dec. 11. 
  • In addition to informing the public through the media, Cal OES and FEMA have reached out online at WildfireRecovery.orgto connect survivors with available services, such as records replacement, temporary housing, debris removal operations, and through informational videos. The website is updated daily so survivors have the latest information to help them with decisions for their own recovery. It was established specifically for the October wildfires, but now Cal OES plans to use it as a tool for all major wildfires going forward. 
  • As of Dec. 8, the site had 55,126 page views, with participants spending nearly two minutes on the page. The highest activity was in the month of October, although there was a spike in views in the past few days since the wildfires started in Southern California. 
  • FEMA worked closely with SBA assisting homeowners and renters to diffuse any misperception that SBA loans are only for businesses and to ensure applicants did not miss out on needed assistance. 
  • Survivors who were declined for a loan were made aware that their application could automatically be referred to FEMA’s Other Needs Assistance (ONA) program for items such as car repairs, clothing, or household items and other serious disaster-related expenses not covered by insurance. As of Dec. 7, nearly $5 million had been approved for ONA.
  • FEMA produced two videos to talk about the disaster assistance application process and about how to apply for an SBA low-interest disaster loan.
  • The state and FEMA ensured that all survivors, including those with Access and Functional Needs, had the tools they needed to register for assistance, apply for SBA low-interest disaster loans and access other FEMA grants for needs not covered by insurance. FEMA, in cooperation with Cal OES, produced two videos:
  • The Consolidated Debris Removal operation – one of the largest ever undertaken – rolled out in two phases. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control were tasked with the removal of household hazardous waste, which has been completed in Butte, Lake, Nevada and Yuba counties, and is 98% completed in Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma counties. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and CalRecycle are managing the removal of ash and other fire-related debris. USACE established a debris removal hotline at 877-875-7681 and specific email addresses for residents with questions about the process.
  • FEMA produced Q&As on the debris removal process and Cal OES explained how it would happen in a video: http://wildfirerecovery.org/debris-removal/debris-removal-faqs/ 
  • All initial costs of the debris removal were paid for by Cal OES and federal agencies. Property owners who had insurance that specifically covers debris removal were required to inform local officials, as they may have to remit that portion of the insurance proceeds specifically reserved for debris removal. They were required to submit a Right-of-Entry (ROE) form to participate in the program. A Cal OES video included an interview with a Santa Rosa firefighter who lost his home to help explain the ROE process to other survivors: https://www.facebook.com/CaliforniaOES/videos/1486254198097234/
  • As of Dec. 8, more than 395,000 tons of debris has been removed from the burn zones. Debris removal is now more than 25 percent complete.
  • The joint Housing and Watershed Task Forces presented a briefing to county governments to review risks associated with rebuilding in post burn areas. The briefings occurred in all the affected counties, providing the permitting officials and other county officials with tools to assess risk for consideration in issuing building permits. The analyses use specific data to measure risk for potential future debris flows. 
  • Each county is establishing procedures for moving forward with site inspections, permitting and integration of debris risk analysis. FEMA direct housing operations will comply with each counties’ various permitting standards. 
  • Most wildfire survivors have found safe, sanitary and secure locations to live in until long-term housing needs can be met. In the past two months, FEMA continues to find housing solutions, which include recreational vehicles and manufactured housing units. In addition, FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Housing has allowed 609 households to stay a total of 12,506 nights in hotels. FEMA funds eligible room costs and taxes.

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