Ask many accountants how many federally declared disasters there have been in California from the beginning of 2008 to today, you will get a wide range of answers. Of course they remember the literally thousands of fires – yes thousands, plural, that California had in the Spring of 2008, the fires last fall and then again in the spring and summer of 2009. So many catastrophes to pick from. And yet only one federal disaster was declared in the 22 month period. The one disaster was a combination of three fires that were physically unconnected to each other, but raged at the same time in mid-November of 2008. The Tea Fire in Santa Barbara, the Sayre Fire in Sylmar area of Los Angeles and the Freeway Complex Fire in the Yorba Linda area that touched Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside Counties were combined into one federal disaster.
The later fire in Santa Barbara known as the Jesusita Fire that destroyed 80 homes and the Station Fire that burned 160,000 acres (an area larger than the whole of the Isle of Manhattan in New York) that burned over 80 homes were not declared federal disasters. The Governor did not even attempt to request a later declaration from the federal government.
It is worth noting the following facts:
Under the protocol of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief Act that was enacted into federal law in 2007, there are three levels of FEMA assistance, but there is only one level of assistance that qualifies for the implementation of tax benefits to flow to citizens. The other two levels only provide assistance to state and local governments’ cost of dealing with the situation. Generally, in the case of all these assistance levels, the Federal government picks up 75% of the state and local governments’ expenses related to the event.
Only a Title IV event under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief Act triggers tax benefits to citizens.
The Jesusita Fire that destroyed over four times the area than the earlier Tea Fire destroyed “only” about 1/3 the number of home that the Tea Fire destroyed (230 for the Tea Fire).
The State of California and local fire agencies did receive 75% funding of their firefighting costs for the Jesusita Fire and the Station Fire.
The two non-disaster levels of assistance are “Fire Management Assistance” and “Emergency Management Assistance.”
Going back to October 22, 2007, FEMA picked up the cost of fighting 27 fires in California, see list below. Only three of these were subsequently upgraded to federal disasters, as noted above.
Fire Management Assistance Declarations
Year Date Incident Disaster Number
2009 10/04 Sheep Fire 2841
2009 09/22 Guiberson Fire 2839
2009 09/01 Pendleton Fire 2836
2009 08/31 Oak Glen Fire 2833
2009 08/31 49er Fire 2832
2009 08/28 Station Fire 2830
2009 08/28 PV Fire 2828
2009 08/15 Yuba Fire 2825
2009 08/13 Lockheed Fire 2824
2009 05/06 Jesusita Fire 2817
2008 11/15 Freeway Complex Fire 2792
2008 11/15 Sayre Fire 2791
2008 11/14 Tea Fire 2790
2008 10/13 Sesnon Fire 2789
2008 10/12 Mareck Fire 2788
2008 09/02 Gladding Fire 2786
2008 07/08 Camp Fire 2782
2008 07/04 Basin Fire Complex 2781
2008 07/04 Gap Fire 2780
2008 06/22 Wild Fire 2776
2008 06/20 Trabing Fire 2775
2008 06/11 Martin Fire 2772
2008 06/11 Humboldt Fire 2771
2008 06/10 Ophir Fire 2770
2008 05/22 Summit Fire 2766
2008 04/27 Santa Anita Fire 2763
2007 10/22 Rice Fire 2739
FEMA also made one “Emergency Declaration” on June 28, 2008. An excerpt from that notice of the Declaration appears below:
“WASHINGTON, D.C. -- … (FEMA) announced that the President declared an emergency exists in the state of California and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts in the area struck by wildfires beginning on June 20, 2008 and continuing.
“FEMA Administrator David Paulison said that the President's action authorizes FEMA to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in Butte, Mendocino, Monterey, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, and Trinity counties.
“Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Emergency protective measures, limited to direct Federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent Federal funding.”
The Tea Fire, Sayre Fire and Freeway Complex Fire were initially Fire Management Assistance Declarations that later turned into one Disaster Area. While these three fires were physically unconnected, they were combined into one disaster declaration request that was made by the governor.
As noted in a prior entry, the Tea Fire burn area actually stopped the progress of the Jesusita Fire on one front. “Neighbors” who lost their homes in the Jesusita Fire do not get the same tax benefits that those who lost their home in the Tea Fire are able to enjoy. This is true, even though there may be people in each group who are neighbors.
Is it right that state and local governments get assistance, but that citizens do not? Send me an email with your thoughts. John@TrapaniCPA.com