- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - The Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday denied for a second time Washington’s request for aid to individuals affected by this summer’s wildfires in the north-central part of the state.

The request sought individual aid for affected Okanogan County residents and members of the Colville confederated tribes.

Gov. Jay Inslee said he learned Tuesday evening that the federal agency had denied the state’s appeal of the initial decision. Members of Washington state’s congressional delegation had joined Inslee in asking for reconsideration.

More than 300 homes were destroyed by the wildfires. Last month, the governor said the cost of destroyed properties in Okanogan County alone is estimated at more than $28 million.

“It is unfortunate that FEMA did not see the merits of our case,” Inslee said. “The fires impacted low-income communities that have very little housing available for families who suffered devastating losses when their homes and possessions burned. Nevertheless, the state will stay involved with the affected communities and do our best to help them recover.”

In a terse, three-paragraph letter, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said the effect to individuals and homeowners “was not of the severity and magnitude to warrant” individual assistance.

In a statement, Inslee’s office said the governor will convene an Okanogan recovery task force to explore every option for providing needed assistance. In addition, it said FEMA has organized a disaster housing assessment team to look more deeply at unmet housing needs.

In their letter last month to Fugate, Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Reps. Doc Hastings and Dave Reichert urged FEMA to review its denial of individual federal aid to people who lost homes or needed other help after the fires.

“Local communities and state agencies have responded admirably, but a disaster of this magnitude requires long-term federal assistance to help these communities respond, rebuild, and cope with this tragedy,” the letter said. “Because there are no comparable Washington state programs, FEMA assistance with housing and household goods is necessary.”

In the letter, the elected officials said that in the small town of Pateros, for example, 87 homes were destroyed.

FEMA earlier did approve Inslee’s request for public assistance that will help the county and tribal governments pay for repair of infrastructure damaged in the fires. That approval means FEMA will reimburse Okanogan County and the Colvilles for 75 percent of the costs of eligible expenses related to disaster-damaged facilities such as roads, bridges and public utilities.

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