As of press time, the fires have devastated areas in San Diego, Ventura, San Bernadino, Riverside and Los Angeles counties, killing 13 and destroying 800 homes. Thousands have fled to temporary shelters, not knowing if their homes and businesses will be left standing. Firefighters believe only about 20 percent of the wildfires are contained at this point. Arson is suspected in at least two of the major fires.
"FEMA is responsible for coordinating federal assets, and we are providing California with substantial resources to fight these current wildfires and others that have threatened the state this year," said Jeff Griffin, regional director of FEMA Region IX, which serves California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and several western Pacific jurisdictions. "Our regional operations center is open 24/7 with staff pre-positioned to support any requests from the state. And President Bush has delegated his authority to Under Secretary Michael Brown to give immediate firefighting assistance."
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) coordinates the disaster relief efforts of 27 federal departments and agencies, including the American Red Cross. Here is a summary of federal activities to date in response to wildfires in California:
The U. S. Forest Service is sending personnel and resources, as needed, from its regional management unit, one of the largest firefighting forces in the nation. The strike teams and their caches are mobilized through the Southern California Geographic Coordination Center, an entity responsible for interagency coordination.
Using Norton Air Force Base, the Department of Defense is providing a staging area for transporting needed personnel, as well as providing air support, equipment and other resources.
The U.S. Department of the Interior is also supporting state and county firefighting efforts with personnel and other resources.
FEMA has approved Fire Management Assistance Grants for seven major fires: Pass, Riverside County; Grand Prix, San Bernardino County; Verdale, Los Angeles and Ventura counties; Old, San Bernardino County; Paradise, San Diego County; Cedar, San Diego County; and Simi, Ventura County.
Federal Fire Management Assistance Grants are provided through the President's Disaster Relief Fund and made available to affected states by FEMA to assist in fighting fires that threaten to cause a major disaster. The assistance pays up to 75 percent of a state's eligible firefighting and emergency response costs for managing, mitigating and controlling designated fires. Eligible state firefighting costs can include expenses for field camps; equipment use; repair and replacement; tools, materials and supplies; and mobilization and demobilization activities.