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A firefighter monitors a house burning in Santa Rosa, Calif., Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. Wildfires whipped by powerful winds swept through Northern California causing residents to flee to safety through smoke and flames as homes burned. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) A firefighter monitors a house burning in Santa Rosa, Calif., Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. Wildfires whipped by powerful winds swept through Northern California causing residents to flee to safety through smoke and flames as homes burned. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

A firefighter monitors a house burning in Santa Rosa, Calif., Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. Wildfires whipped by powerful winds swept through Northern California causing residents to flee to safety through smoke and flames as homes burned. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Chris Nichols
By Chris Nichols October 16, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • One day after FEMA rejected California's request for federal wildfire assistance, Gov. Gavin Newsom said President Donald Trump reversed the decision
  • FEMA had said damage caused by California's recent fires wasn't "severe" enough to qualify for federal help. 
  • While Trump has threatened to withhold federal fire funding from California, his administration had always approved the money until this week's short-lived rejection

One day after the Trump administration rejected California’s request for federal assistance for several September wildfires, citing damage that wasn’t "severe" enough, the administration reversed course and approved the relief. 

"Just got off phone with @realDonaldTrump who has approved our Major Disaster Declaration request," California Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted early Friday afternoon. "Grateful for his quick response."

On Thursday, FEMA rejected the state’s request for disaster relief for six major wildfires, including the Creek Fire near Fresno, marking the first time the Trump administration had declined to help the state despite President Donald Trump’s repeated threats to block assistance. 

"We are appealing this," California Gov. Gavin Newsom wrote on Twitter on Friday morning in a curt statement linking to news of the rejected aid.

Later on Friday morning, GOP Congressman Tom McClintock, whose district includes the Creek Fire area, indicated Trump would reverse FEMA’s decision. McClintock wrote on Twitter that Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield had informed him the president had "committed" to reversing FEMA’s decision to deny the disaster relief. 

About two hours later, Newsom confirmed Trump had approved the request.

Yesterday, a White House spokesman told The New York Times that Trump had already come to California’s assistance by authorizing funds for fires earlier this year and that data on the recent fires did not meet a threshold for federal help. 

Past Fact Checks

In August, PolitiFact California rated ‘False’ a widely-shared Facebook post that claimed Trump had rejected fire aid for the state. At that time his administration had recently approved the state’s request for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for fires caused by August lightning strikes.

Our rating for that fact check remains the same as we decide our grades based on the information available at the time. However, we added a note to that fact-check with today's news.

California’s request asked for relief for the following fires: The Valley Fire in San Diego County; the El Dorado Fire in San Bernardino County; the Creek Fire in Fresno and Madera counties; the Oak Fire in Mendocino County; the Bobcat Fire in Los Angeles County; and the Slater Fire in Siskiyou County. 

Federal major disaster declarations allow for cost-sharing for damage, cleanup and rebuilding between the state and federal governments. They also activate relief programs led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the AP reported. 

Additionally, the declarations "help people in the impacted counties through eligibility for support including crisis counseling, housing and unemployment assistance and legal services," Newsom’s office wrote in a statement

In making his past threats to block aid, Trump has repeatedly claimed California’s deadly wildfires "would never happen" with "proper Forest Management." We’ve found that’s an overly simplistic and false assessment.

Experts on climate, forestry and firefighting have all rejected the president’s claims on the topic. They said forest management is just one element, while climate change and urban sprawl are also key contributors.

Damage From Creek Fire

As of Thursday morning, the Creek fire had burned more than 344,000 acres in Fresno and Madera counties with 60% containment. It had destroyed 856 structures and continued to threaten another 119. 

The rejection-then-approval by the Trump administration comes as fire danger remains high in California. PG&E cut power to about 41,000 customers in Northern California on Wednesday to try and prevent its equipment from sparking further wildfires due to dry, windy conditions. The outages cover 24 counties and are expected to last into Friday evening. 

The counties impacted include Alameda, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Humboldt, Lake, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Solano, Sonoma, Tehama, Trinity, Yolo and Yuba counties. 

PG&E also expects that a small number of customers in two tribal communities may be affected. 

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Trump Administration Approves California Fire Assistance, One Day After Rejecting It