Governor Jan Brewer Appeals Denial of Federal Aid for Yarnell Hill Fire

Bipartisan delegation unites to support the Governor’s decision
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PHOENIX – Governor Jan Brewer today sent a letter to President Obama appealing his administration’s denial of federal assistance in response to the Yarnell Hill Fire. A bipartisan coalition of Arizona congressional members and state lawmakers joined the Governor at the State Capitol as she formally signed the state’s appeal letter.

“I continue to believe steadfastly that a federal disaster declaration is justified,” said Governor Brewer. “I have asked President Obama to reconsider his administration’s decision to deny assistance to Arizona.  I am hopeful that, as promised, President Obama will be wholly committed to the recovery and rebuilding of communities harmed by the tragic Yarnell Hill Fire.”

On July 9, following the deadliest wildfire in Arizona history and the nation’s worst in 80 years, Governor Brewer sent a letter to President Obama requesting a federal Major Disaster Declaration. If granted, the designation would have provided critical funds for housing assistance and “necessary and serious needs” not covered by insurance. One month after receiving the request, the Obama administration denied federal aid to the local residents and businesses most impacted by the Yarnell Hill Fire.

After a thorough review of the state’s options, the Governor today officially requested that President Obama reconsider and reverse the decision rendered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The letter highlights several additional and previously overlooked factors that warrant federal aid.

Chief among these factors are the exceptional high concentration of damages, trauma and financial strain on the affected communities as rural areas with significant “special populations.” Yarnell is a small, remote unincorporated community located more than 30 miles from the closest economic center. Its population amounts to approximately 650 citizens with an average age of 61 and a medium income of less than $25,000. Additionally, 20 percent of homes in the community were destroyed by the fire.  Further, because the Yarnell Hill Fire directly impacted federal land, FEMA’s denial does not adequately address Arizona’s request for technical assistance from the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) program.   

Due to Yarnell’s unique demographics, tremendous economic stresses and the continued grief associated with the loss of human life in the community, Governor Brewer asserts that a federal disaster declaration is justified, and has requested that the Obama administration reconsider its denial.

Finally, the Governor also reiterates her request for a Small Business Administration Physical Disaster Declaration. The state yesterday received word that, despite its clear authority to independently evaluate a request for assistance, SBA will continue to defer aid while the appeal is in process. The damage caused by the Yarnell Hill Fire exceeds the criterion for receiving disaster loans, which local homeowners and business owners urgently need. The Governor urges President Obama to direct the SBA to immediately proceed with Arizona’s request.

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