Gov. Jerry Brown surveys damage from the Thomas Fire in Ventura County. Courtesy Governor’s Press Office
Gov. Jerry Brown( foreground, second from left) surveys damage from the Thomas Fire in Ventura County. Courtesy Governor’s Press Office

Southern California officials were awaiting a response Thursday from President Donald Trump to Gov. Jerry Brown’s request for a presidential major disaster declaration that would bolster recovery efforts from wildfires that have burned across the region.

“I respectfully request you declare a major disaster in the state of California as a result of the devastating wildfires burning in Southern California for weeks,” Brown wrote Wednesday in a letter requesting the disaster declaration.

Brown previously issued a state emergency declaration on Dec. 5 in Los Angeles and Ventura counties and on Dec. 7 in San Diego and Santa Barbara counties. Trump issued a federal emergency declaration Dec. 8 authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies to help respond to the wildfires. At the time, the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, the Lilac Fire near Fallbrook in San Diego County and a trio of fires in Los Angeles County were still burning.

All Southern California wildfires have been put out except for the Thomas Fire, which Thursday morning was about 1,000 acres from becoming the largest in state history, surpassing the 2003 Cedar Fire in San Diego County.

California’s two Democratic senators, Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, sent Trump a joint letter supporting Brown’s request.

“This year’s wildfire season in California has been nothing short of catastrophic,” according to their letter. “Over 1.2 million acres have burned in the state this year. In October, wildfires destroyed thousands of homes and killed 44 people in Northern California. Since the beginning of December, six large wildfires have burned nearly 300,000 acres in Southern California.”

The senators noted that two people have died as a result of the Thomas Fire in Ventura County, including one firefighter — San Diego-based Cal Fire engineer Cory Iverson.

The governor’s newly requested major disaster declaration would aid the state and local governments in the clean-up and recovery efforts.

“These fires collectively caused extensive damage to primary residences and infrastructure and continue to pose a direct threat to public health and safety,” Brown wrote. “I have determined this incident is of such severity and magnitude that an effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments and supplemental federal assistance is necessary.”

Brown said more than 1,000 homes have been confirmed destroyed and that “given past fires and initial estimates for these fires, we expect the damages to well exceed the requirements for federal assistance.”

The governor said federal funds would go in part toward removing large amounts of debris to eliminate the threat to public health and safety.

“Prompt removal of the debris is also necessary to enable community rebuilding and economic recovery of impacted communities,” Brown wrote.

Federal funds would also go toward helping those whom state officials expect will be left homeless or displaced for an extended period of time.

“Although it is anticipated that some portion of the disaster survivors have insurance coverage, it is expected many of the survivors in the impacted communities will have no insurance coverage or be underinsured. Even for those survivors who have insurance coverage, major challenges remain to obtain temporary housing and attempt to rebuild their lives,”

Brown requested the major disaster declaration for San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, specifically requesting help from federal disaster-relief programs focused on housing and temporary shelters, unemployment assistance, crisis counseling, legal services and hazard mitigation services.

In Los Angeles County, the Creek Fire near Sylmar scorched more than 15,600 acres, the Skirball Fire in the Sepulveda Pass burned about 422 acres and the Rye Fire near Santa Clarita blackened more than 6,000 acres.

The Lilac Fire near Bonsall between Fallbrook and Oceanside scorched 4,100 acres and destroyed or damaged more than 200 buildings.

The Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties has burned 272,200 acres and was 60 percent contained Thursday morning. It has destroyed or damaged nearly 1,000 homes, a large apartment complex and a hospital and likely will grow to be the largest in state history.

–City News Service

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