January 2, 2008

FEMA reimburses CDF for fire costs

The Sawtooth fire as seen from a hill in Yucca Valley. The road below is Highway 62. Photo by Westerberg

Lauren McSherry, Staff Writer
San Bernardino Sun

A year and a half after the Sawtooth Fire burned in the desert west of Yucca Valley, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Wednesday it is granting more than $8.8million to reimburse the state forestry agency for costs incurred fighting the wildfire.

The money will be given to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection through the Fire Management Grant Assistance Program.

Under the program, FEMA covers 75 percent of the cost of fighting fires on public and private land that could constitute a major disaster. The state is left to make up the remaining 25 percent.

The Sawtooth Fire started on July 9, 2006, and was not contained until July 18. It swept across about 61,700 acres and threatened houses in Pioneertown, Yucca Valley and parts of the Morongo Basin.

Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the CDF in Sacramento, declined to comment on how the money would be spent, but said it is routine to apply for the grant anytime there is an evacuation in conjunction with a major wildland fire.

Kelly Hudson, a FEMA spokeswoman, said the money is typically used to restore an agency's budget after local firefighters and other groups that helped battle the fire are paid.

She said the state agency had about a year to submit the application, which requires thorough documentation of expenses.

"It's not that the locals went unpaid," Hudson said. "They were paid. We're reimbursing the state agency."

The money could go toward the cost of field camps, the repair and replacement of equipment, tools, materials and supplies as well as mobilization and demobilization activities, according to FEMA.

Money for the grant program is allocated from the President's Disaster Relief Fund.

"FEMA is committed to assisting firefighters in getting them the critical resources they need to respond quickly and effectively to the unpredictability of wildfires," said FEMA Region IX Administrator Nancy Ward in a statement.