WASHINGTON - Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday that the Trump administration has approved California's wildfire disaster declaration after he first denied the request.
Newsom said the president reversed his initial decision after the two spoke by phone.
The governor first formally submitted a letter to the White House on Sept. 28 asking for emergency aid. Newsom said the funds are needed to clean up the damage from six recent wildfires among the siege of deadly and destructive blazes that have scorched the state.
A representative of one fire-stricken area had warned that time was running out to clean up debris before rain and snow arrived, bringing the threat of mudslides and toxins being washed into a river watershed.
The 30-page request described the disasters and pointed out that damage assessments were incomplete because the fires were still raging and access was difficult.
White House spokesman Judd Deere said Friday that California’s request “was not supported by the relevant data” needed for approval and that Trump agreed with a recommendation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator.
Federal major disaster declarations allow for cost-sharing for damage, cleanup and rebuilding between the state and federal governments. They also activate relief programs led by FEMA.
Denials of relief are rare and Newsom has previously praised the Trump administration for approving aid related to the fires and the coronavirus pandemic. The White House said Trump quickly approved wildfire relief that was supported by damage estimates.
Among the fires listed in the aid application is the Creek Fire, which erupted in the Sierra Nevada on Sept. 4 and is 60% contained after burning 850 homes and more than 537 square miles in Fresno and Madera counties.
No major new fires were reported statewide early Friday, but warnings of dangerously hot, dry and gusty conditions that can fan fires were expected to remain in effect until the evening. Nearly 9,000 firefighters remain on the lines of 21 fires.
Numerous studies have linked bigger wildfires in America to climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas. Scientists have said climate change has made California much drier, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable.
It has been a disastrous wildfire season in California, with more than 8,500 blazes burning more than 6,400 square miles since the start of the year. Thirty-one people have died and some 9,200 buildings have been destroyed.
Thousands of Northern California residents remained without electricity Friday after a utility cut off service to prevent the latest round of powerful winds from damaging equipment and sparking wildfires amid a fall heat wave.
Power restorations began Thursday afternoon and by evening Pacific Gas and Electric said about 30,000 customers were still in the dark — down from about 45,000 the previous night.
All electricity was expected to be restored by late Friday, PG&E said.
The utility better targeted outages this time after it was criticized in 2019 for cutting power to about 800,000 customers and leaving about 2 million people in the dark for days.
Most of this year’s fires have occurred since mid-August, when an unusual siege of thousands of lightning strikes ignited huge blazes.