Rebuilding Without Federal Help

September 16, 2008 7:02:48 PM PDT
Counties across the state have learned they will not receive federal funding to deal with the damage left behind by massive wildfires this summer.Right now Mariposa County will not be fully reimbursed for the cost to repair road damage and some other public infrastructure. And fire victims won't be eligible for certain federal loans.

Orval Arebalo is working to rebuild the home where he and his wife lived for 35 years, but he says it will never be the same.

Orval Arebalo: "It won't be the place we had that we had all the memories from, the family gatherings, the Christmas. My granddaughter put it this way, 'Grandpa, where are we going to have Christmas at?' Because they always came to our place for Christmas."

Arebalo says he can't put a price on what he lost in the Telegraph Fire, but he knows his own recovery efforts and those of the county require financial support.

Chief Jim Wilson: "They're resurveying the counties that were affected in that disaster declaration ... "

County Fire Chief Jim Wilson says the state and federal government together will reimburse nearly 95 percent of the county's emergency response costs for both the Telegraph Fire and the Oliver Fire. The state has also promised 75 percent for the recovery effort, but the federal emergency management agency, better known as FEMA, has denied any additional funding to repair roads or other infrastructure.

Chief Jim Wilson: "We're incurring ongoing expenses related to the recovery, debris removal, hazardous materials removal and those types of things."

Jim Middleton, Deputy Office of Emergency Services Coordinator: "We're looking at somewhere between 700 thousand dollars to a million dollars."

The federal denial also means the 30 families who lost their homes won't be eligible for low interest or no interest rebuilding loans from FEMA. It's the same problem fire-ravaged counties across California are facing, which may be due in part to FEMA's focus on hurricane damage along the gulf coast. But Arebalo says his community needs help too.

Orval: "FEMA could really really help if they would take another look, especially the people that didn't have insurance."

Now the county must wait and see if the state can successfully appeal for more federal funding.

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