Washington state governor seeks federal aid for wildfire survivors

October 6, 2023
Wildfire haze

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has officially requested federal aid to assist survivors of the catastrophic wildfires that plagued eastern Washington in August.

The need for federal intervention has been underscored by the severe impact of the fires, particularly the Gray fire and the Oregon Road fire.

In a plea for support, Inslee turned to the federal government for relief and resources.

Gov. Inslee requests major disaster declaration

In a news release on Wednesday, the Democratic governor announced that he sent a letter to President Joe Biden.

He urged the president to release funds through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s individual assistance program for those affected.

Inslee stated in his 44-page letter: “This disaster has destroyed more primary homes than any other wildfire in Washington state history.”

He emphasized that the extent of the destruction has “exhausted all local and state resources” making federal aid critical.

The unprecedented scale of destruction

According to the letter, nearly 450 primary homes faced damage or were completely destroyed by the fires.

In his correspondence, Inslee also sought assistance from federal agencies for debris management and disposal.

He highlighted the importance of preventing debris and contaminants from entering local waterways.

Both fires started on Aug. 18 under severe fire weather conditions, including wind speeds exceeding 20 mph.

The Gray fire affected areas like Medical Lake while the Oregon Road fire impacted regions near Elk. Both blazes led to the evacuation of roughly 5,000 residents, disrupted water quality, and left nearly 34,000 customers without power.

In addition, the Gray fire forced the closure of a section of Interstate 90 for two days.

Tragically, two people lost their lives while trying to flee the fires, and another individual suffered severe burns.

Justin Knutsen, the burn victim, was recently released from Harborview Medical Center in Seattle after being treated for second-degree burns.

His home was among those destroyed, but Knutsen remains hopeful and plans to participate actively in rebuilding efforts.

He shared his aspirations: “I own my own construction business and so do a couple of my friends. I’m just excited to get together with them and start rebuilding the whole community.”

The fires prompted Gov. Inslee to declare a statewide emergency earlier this year.

Further illustrating the widespread concern, U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, along with U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, echoed Inslee’s call for federal aid in a separate letter to President Biden.

As investigations continue, the Washington Department of Natural Resources is looking into the cause of the fires.

Two lawsuits attribute the Gray fire’s ignition to a power utility.

Officials from Inland Power and Light Company have stated that they are still uncertain about the cause and have chosen not to comment further.

The full letter from Governor Inslee can be accessed here.

FSJA Comment

The wildfires that devastated eastern Washington in August have left an indelible mark on the community.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s plea to the federal government is a testament to the scale and gravity of the disaster.

The sheer number of homes destroyed is unprecedented in Washington’s history, highlighting the dire need for federal aid and intervention.

Furthermore, the holistic approach sought by Gov. Inslee, encompassing not just reconstruction but also debris management and protection of local waterways, demonstrates the depth and breadth of the challenges ahead.

The unified call from Washington’s political leaders, regardless of party affiliations, amplifies the urgency of this crisis and underscores the importance of a swift federal response.

This development holds significant implications for disaster management, community resilience, and the long-term rebuilding efforts that lie ahead for Washington.

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