- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 8, 2013

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and federal lawmakers are pressuring the Obama administration to reconsider its decision not to grant major-disaster aid to residents affected by the Yarnell Hill Fire, an early summer tragedy that killed 19 firefighters and prompted nationwide mourning.

The situation pits the rules of federal aid against the wrenching aftermath of the June 30 disaster that killed all but one member of the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighting crew and emotionally decimated the community about 85 miles from Phoenix.

“The deadliest wildfire in Arizona history and our nation’s deadliest in more than 80 years, the Yarnell Hill Fire has cause tremendous trauma to Arizonans,” Ms. Brewer said in a recently filed appeal of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s decision.

FEMA rejected the state’s request on Aug. 9 because only nine of the 108 homes destroyed in the blaze were uninsured, meaning state and local resources and volunteer agencies should be able to handle the situation.

Ms. Brewer, a Republican, spoke glowingly about President Obama in the wake of the disaster. But now, she says the administration is reneging on its promise to help the region.

She said at least 17 homeowners have demonstrated they are underinsured, and that “this number certainly will increase” as homeowners realize their insurance policies do not cover their losses.

Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake and the rest of Arizona’s congressional delegation — five Democrats and four Republicans — are pushing Mr. Obama to reverse FEMA’s decision because he said July 1 that his administration would “provide the support they need.”

“Such statements imply that the federal government will remain involved in assisting the community,” the lawmakers wrote last week.

Newscasts devoted significant air time to the wrenching story, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden spoke at a televised memorial at an arena in Prescott Valley, Ariz.

“All men are created equal but then a few became firefighters. Thank God for you all,” he said at the time.

In his denial letter, FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate’s told Ms. Brewer his agency had provided the state a Fire Management Assistance Grant in June, but that he had to reject her request for aid under a program for individuals and households.

FEMA considers a number of factors in assessing a request for a major disaster declaration, including insurance coverage,” agency spokesman Dan Watson said Friday. “FEMA, by law, cannot duplicate benefits provided by insurance companies or other federal agencies.”

In her appeal, Ms. Brewer says there are no tangible baselines in the law to establish need, and that the Obama administration failed to consider the financial burden Yavapai County sustained by placing the region’s firefighters on leave for a period of mourning and funeral services.

The community of Yarnell is small and unable to absorb the damage, she said. It’s located 30 miles from the nearest economic center and its 650 residents have an average age of 61 and median income of less than $25,000.

“We believe that these are all factors that FEMA should more carefully weigh,” the federal lawmakers wrote.