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National News

August 13, 2013

FEMA denial no surprise to residents of Yarnell, Ariz.

They vow to press on after wildfire

WASHINGTON — Residents of Yarnell, Ariz., said Monday that they were never really depending on help from the federal government, and vowed to continue rebuilding their community after a request for disaster aid was rejected Friday.

Frances Lecher, a spokeswoman for the Yarnell Hill Recovery Group, said residents are instead focused on the here and now of healing the town that was the scene of a deadly wildfire which killed 19 firefighters and destroyed 134 homes.

“To be honest, when people came into town, they didn’t come here thinking, ‘I can’t wait to see what FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) does for us,’” Lecher said. “Until you’re in a disaster, you don’t know how all the pieces fall into place.”

In early July, Gov. Jan Brewer asked for a federal disaster declaration after the June blaze, and said she was reassured by President Barack Obama during a visit to Phoenix last week that he would look into the request.

But late Friday, FEMA rejected the request without explanation.

A FEMA spokesman said Monday that the agency had provided assistance with firefighting efforts during the blaze and he noted that aid was still available from several other federal agencies. But ultimately, the damage to Yarnell did not rise to the level of a federal disaster, said Dan Watson.

“In this case, based upon the findings of the joint federal, state and local preliminary damage assessment teams, it was determined that the damage to uninsured private residences from this event was not beyond the response and recovery capabilities of the state/local governments, and voluntary agencies,” Watson said in an emailed statement.

Lecher and others with the Yarnell Hill Recovery Group praised the initial response and assistance from local and volunteer groups in the days after the blaze. Lecher said it also came down to the strong relationships of those in the community.

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