Victims of the destructive wildfires that wrought widespread havoc on Northern California last month have two more weeks to apply for federal disaster assistance, a step thousands of people have already taken and one that local officials still encourage remaining fire survivors to move forward with, regardless of how much insurance they may have.
By Dec. 11, more than two months after California’s most destructive firestorm swept through Sonoma County, victims must register with the Federal Emergency Management Agency if they are to remain eligible for direct financial assistance and other forms of governmental aid down the road. FEMA is also encouraging fire victims who have received applications for disaster loans provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration to submit them by the same deadline.
FEMA wants all local victims impacted by the wildfires to register online, over the phone or in person — even if they’re not sure they’ll need a federal grant or loan — so the option is available to them if needed.
“We encourage everyone to register, because it is an assistance that is available to help you recover from the disaster, and we want you to receive all of the things that you’re eligible for so that you can recover faster,” said Brandi Richard, a FEMA public affairs officer. “We’re just trying to get people whole, or as whole as they possibly can be.”
So far, the federal government has received more than 15,800 valid registrations related to the October wildfires in Sonoma County, and nearly 3,200 of those have been approved, according to Richard. The agency has approved about $7.5 million to assist individual fire victims in the county, she said.
It’s not clear how many people remain eligible for disaster assistance who haven’t signed up yet.
“If you were just looking at the number of households that were impacted, meaning their home was damaged or destroyed, you would think that there would be a set number, but it’s anyone who’s had any impact,” Richard said. “So that could be that part of their personal property was in one of those houses, or someone close to them passed away or their car was in a place that was burned so they need a place for their vehicle. There are lots of different ways and reasons why people would apply for assistance from FEMA.”
Sonoma County Board of Supervisors chairwoman Shirlee Zane urged all remaining fire victims to register quickly, if they haven’t already, before the deadline passes.
“We pay for this type of assistance out of our taxes,” Zane said. “But we still have to take advantage of those opportunities. We want to pump money back into our economy, too, and we want people to get back on their feet first and foremost.”
The federal government is still operating two disaster recovery centers: the primary one in Santa Rosa on the first floor of The Press Democrat building at 427 Mendocino Avenue and another in the Sonoma Valley at the Hanna Boys Center at 17000 Arnold Drive. When the Santa Rosa location operated as a more expansive local assistance center, it served more than 12,500 households through Nov. 11, and about 1,400 have been served since then, according to Michael Gossman, a Sonoma County Water Agency official who managed the site and is still coordinating with the county and FEMA.