The Colorado Congressional delegation today urged President Obama to expedite and approve a request from Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to issue federal major disaster declarations in response to the Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires. The declaration would make federal resources available for response and recovery efforts.
Additionally, the delegation asked for the Small Business Administration (SBA) to quickly approve a disaster declaration for the massive West Fork Fire complex in Southwest Colorado to provide economic injury disaster loans to businesses affected by the fire.
In a letter to the president, the delegation wrote, “At the height of these blazes, thousands of firefighters and other personnel engaged in combating the Black Forest Fire, the Royal Gorge fire, the East Peak Fire, the West Fork Fire complex, and other wildfires simultaneously burning across Colorado... A major disaster declaration will provide urgently needed resources and support to the state, communities, and especially the families who have been uprooted by these wildfires.”
Requests for a disaster declaration by the President must be made by the Governor of the affected state. Governor Hickenlooper made the request late yesterday. Once the declaration is made, it would make available a number of Federal programs to assist in the response and recovery efforts. The types of assistance made available, whether individual or public, are based on the needs found during a preliminary damage assessment conducted by state and Federal officials. Types of assistance may include temporary housing, home repair or replacement, debris removal, repairs and restoration to publicly-owned facilities, among others.
Click here to view the letter or read below:
July 10, 2013
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D. C.
Dear Mr. President:
We write to support Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s request for a federal major disaster declaration in response to the enormously destructive Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires in El Paso and Fremont counties. We also urge the Small Business Administration (SBA) to expeditiously approve Governor Hickenlooper’s request for an SBA disaster declaration, in order to provide economic injury disaster loans to businesses affected by the massive West Fork Fire complex in Southwest Colorado, which continues to burn today.
The Black Forest fire is the most destructive wildfire in state history, surpassing the High Park and Waldo Canyon blazes last summer that together earned an expedited Presidential disaster declaration in June 2012. The Black Forest Fire killed two Coloradans, destroyed 498 homes based on FEMA damage assessments, and forced over 40,000 evacuations. The Royal Gorge Fire destroyed 48 structures at the historic Royal Gorge Bridge and Park, leaving only the bridge and three other structures standing and partially damaged, and has severely impacted the local economy of Canon City and the surrounding area. Unfortunately, these fires affected counties already heavily impacted by the devastating wildfires of 2012, and in some cases directly impacted survivors a second time.
In addition to this catalog of destruction, significant other Colorado fires burned or continue to burn in Grand, Huerfano, Hinsdale, Mineral, Moffat and Rio Grande counties. In particular, the West Fork Fire complex alone has burned 110,000 acres in our state, and remains only 20% contained. Striking at the peak of tourism season for this area, the three fires that together comprise the West Fork Complex resulted in the closure of two national forests and numerous regional highways, thousands of additional evacuations, and major disruptions to many local businesses.
At the height of these blazes, thousands of firefighters and other personnel engaged in combating the Black Forest Fire, the Royal Gorge fire, the East Peak Fire, the West Fork Fire complex, and other wildfires simultaneously burning across Colorado. State and local officials have been forced to spend over $22 million on direct fire suppression costs so far, with additional funds certain to prove necessary as local residents seek temporary housing and communities work to recover. This is in addition to the estimated $51 million in Fire Management Assistance Grants provided by FEMA.
Governor Hickenlooper determined that these incidents are of such severity and magnitude that additional supplementary federal assistance is necessary to help address impacts and needs that are not being covered by existing resources. We respectfully request your prompt consideration of the Governor’s July 9 request, and issue a disaster declaration as soon as possible to assist our state in combating and recovering from these fires. A major disaster declaration will provide urgently needed resources and support to the state, communities, and especially the families who have been uprooted by these wildfires. And a separate SBA declaration, in response to the Governor’s parallel July 9 request to SBA, will help businesses in Southwest Colorado recover from the serious economic setbacks the region has seen this summer.
We thank you in advance for your timely consideration of these important requests, and we stand ready to assist in any way that may be helpful to Coloradans dealing with this situation on the ground.