FALLBROOK, Calif. — California was awaiting a response Thursday from President Donald Trump after Governor Jerry Brown requested a presidential major disaster declaration that would bolster recovery efforts in the wake of Southern California’s late-season wildfires, including the Lilac Fire in North County and the Thomas Fire in Ventura County that claimed the life of San Diego- based Cal Fire engineer Cory Iverson.
“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 and several 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.
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 that 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.
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.