The nation’s emergency management chief visited Lake County Wednesday to tour areas devastated by the 12-day-old Valley Fire and vowed to help the roughly 3,000 people left homeless by the blaze obtain temporary housing and assistance as they rebuild.
But Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate said residents must begin the process by registering their losses with the agency as soon as possible, either online or by phone.
“More importantly, tell me where people are, and we’ll go to them and get them,” Fugate said during a news conference in Middletown at the South Lake County Fire Protection District, nine of whose members fought the fire despite losing their own homes, according to state Sen. Mike McGuire.
Both Fugate and California Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci also urged victims of the fire to have patience during the weeks and months ahead, as local, state and federal agencies and non-profit groups work to resolve the many challenges resulting from the fire, beginning with housing.
“There’s no silver bullet to this particular issue,” Ghilarducci said. “There is a patchwork of capability that we will be looking at” — everything from hotels to rentals, manufactured FEMA housing, even possible use of the shuttered Konocti Harbor Resort to shelter displaced residents until their homes are rebuilt.
“It starts with the registration, and we find out exactly what is needed,” he said, “what kind of loss the survivor had, and then we can move forwards with it.”
Fugate’s arrival in the region followed by a day declaration of the burn area as a federal disaster area, making those who suffered losses in the fire — especially uninsured losses — eligible for federal assistance.
Congressman Mike Thompson also announced Wednesday that the federal Small Business Administration is prepared to offer low-interest loans of up to $2 million to aid businesses and non-profits affected by the fire, as well as disaster loans of up to $200,000 for homeowners who must repair or replace real estate. Loans of up to $40,000 also are available for homeowners and renters who seek to replace personal property, according to Thompson’s office.
The 76,000-acre blaze, now 82 percent contained, ranks as the third most destructive fire in California history, causing what Ghilarducci said would be losses “in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”
It destroyed at least 1,910 structures, including more than 1,230 single-family and 23 multi-family homes. The county, schools and fire districts can expect to forfeit at least $2.1 million in property tax revenue, in addition to an unknown quantity of sales and transient occupancy tax, Lake County Administrative Officer Matt Perry said.
Four known civilians, including one made public Wednesday and believed to be a missing Cobb resident named Robert Taylor Fletcher, 66, perished. Four firefighters also were burned in the initial attack.
More than 3,000 firefighters were working the fire lines Wednesday, according to Cal Fire, but around the area, the focus is shifting toward recovery.
The evacuation order is being lifted at 5 p.m. Thursday, for instance, for Anderson Springs so residents can return to what’s left of their neighborhoods, though it’s not clear how much was left standing. It was one of the communities hardest hit by the fire, both in terms of structural loss and fatalities — there were two.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here