Brewer appeals disaster denial for Yarnell fire

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday appealed the federal government's denial of disaster assistance for the June wildfire that killed 19 firefighters and destroyed more than 100 homes in the town of Yarnell.

Brewer said the uninsured damage has gone up and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency didn't take into account the high number of poor and elderly residents in Yarnell when it denied the disaster declaration request last month. She also said the agency's denial increases the risk the town faces from flooding because a federal team she requested to rehabilitate the burned area was part of the denial.

"The deadliest fire in Arizona's history has been a traumatic, devastating event for all of Arizona, but most especially the communities of Yarnell, Peeples Valley and Prescott," Brewer said. She noted that President Barack Obama promised to help the communities recover.

"Such disaster relief would do so much for Arizona, not the least of which is help homeowners who lost everything - just as the federal government helps hurricane and other disaster victims."

Four of Arizona's nine House members attended Brewer's press conference announcing the appeal, and Republican Rep. Paul Gosar said all are expected to sign a letter urging the government to reconsider.

"This area is a very resilient area, and they don't ask much," Gosar said. "They ask the federal government to be equal in its application of the law."

FEMA told Brewer in its denial letter that the damage to uninsured private homes was not so severe that state, local and volunteer agencies couldn't handle the problems, and it repeated that analysis in response to inquiries Wednesday. Agency regulations require it to consider many factors when reviewing a disaster aid request, including insurance coverage, recent multiple disasters and other available federal assistance programs.

The governor said nine of the 108 destroyed homes were uninsured and 17 underinsured, but that number is likely to go up.

Indeed, Yavapai County Emergency Management Coordinator Denny Foulk said Wednesday that he counted 11 uninsured homes and about 30 that were underinsured. He placed a rough value on the uninsured homes at $1.1 million and the underinsured at $3 million.

The town's water system was also damaged, in some cases because firefighter use drained its pipes and then they collapsed when heavy equipment drove above them. Basic repairs could cost about $1.2 million, replacing sections of water line that were compromised $8 million, and a complete overhaul would be $15 million, he said.

Paying for a complete rebuild of the water system and covering the uninsured losses is less than $20 million, but Brewer said the state should not have to use its hefty reserves to pay for the recovery.

"We all pay taxes to the federal government, and this is a disaster," Brewer said. "It is not, I believe, Arizona's responsibility."

The FEMA denial also noted that the state could request disaster loan assistance from the Small Business Administration. Brewer noted in her response that the SBA's rules won't let it act while the state is appealing the disaster denial.

The fire was sparked by a lightning strike on June 28, and trapped the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots on June 30 as it barreled toward Yarnell. The fire burned 8,400 acres of brush before it was controlled on July 12.

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