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Sunday, March 3, 2024
March 3, 2024

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Gov. Inslee asks White House to aid Spokane County wildfire survivors


In a letter to President Joe Biden, Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday asked for financial assistance and a major disaster declaration to help Spokane County wildfire survivors.

The Gray and Oregon Road fires killed two people, destroyed 700 structures, and torched over 20,000 acres in August. Hundreds of people lost their homes, and Inslee declared a statewide emergency as thousands were forced to evacuate.

The disaster, Inslee wrote in the letter, destroyed more homes than any other wildfire in the state’s history. The Spokane County homeowners’ insurance rate is estimated at 50%, according to the letter.

The reduction in property value is estimated at $150 million, and the Washington state fire marshal estimated the fire cost nearly $20 million for mobilization.

Alex Brown, 49, and Carl Grub, 86, died from the fires.

Inslee asked the president to make financial assistance available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Individual Assistance program. The FEMA program would provide direct services to eligible uninsured or underinsured households if the request is approved.

The letter requests unemployment assistance, legal services and crisis counseling assistance. Inslee also requested help with debris management, testing for contaminants by the Environmental Protection Agency and the disposal of debris to prevent impacting local waterways.

Spokane County is getting $4.1 million from the state to help recover from the catastrophic fires. The state funding will help pay for case managers, who can help homeless families put together recovery plans, along with temporary housing, asbestos testing and debris removal for the uninsured.

The county is one of the most at-risk communities in the state for wildfires. The damage is a stark reminder of the rising risks to people living in what experts call the wildland-urban interface, or the transition zone between wildlands, rich with fuels for fire, and human development.

Within two hours, the fire overwhelmed regional capabilities, in a county with more resources for wildland firefighting than most.