SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – After nearly a month-long wait, Santa Clara County was approved for federal aid on Tuesday to support residents impacted by the SCU Lighting Complex fires that started last month.
The blazes have burned for 41 days and are now 98 percent contained and burned nearly 400,000 acres, making it the third-largest wildfire in state history to date.
The SCU Lightning Complex fires destroyed 222 structures, virtually all in Santa Clara County, and cost ranchers and residents nearly $26 million in damage, according to a report from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, a statewide network of UC researchers and educators who focus on the creation, development and application of agriculture, natural and human resources.
“I am relieved that Santa Clara County residents will have access to federal funding to help them recover from this disaster,” Cortese said in a statement. “Although the SCU Fire area was not as populated as other fire areas, the damage is devastating to cattle ranchers who have lost grazing land, their homes and livelihoods.”
The $26 million from the UC report is an initial estimate damage assessment and accounts for the loss of cattle and vegetation on grazing lands. It, however, does not account for the loss of roads, cabins, barns and other buildings so the total damage cost is likely much higher.
The report also highlights that water quality and quantity in the Calaveras and San Antonio reservoirs will suffer.
Cortese toured the impacted fire areas in the Diablo Range of the county beyond Lick Observatory and the San Antonio Valley.
A statement from Cortese’s office said he saw “black-scorched earth has replaced vibrant grasslands, shrubs and oak trees that provided feed and shelter to 13,471 head of cattle and livelihoods to the ranchers who raised them.”
The blaze damaged acres of County Parks and land on Mt. Hamilton while displacing local workers like heavy equipment operators. It also destroyed water tanks, private and public power lines and utilities as well as communication systems.
With the new Federal Emergency Management Agency approval, Santa Clara joins eight other California counties approved for federal aid by a Presidential Disaster Declaration on Aug. 22.
The declaration helps people in impacted counties be eligible for support such as financial reimbursements, crisis counseling, housing and unemployment service as well as legal services.
FEMA aid can also provide psychological support to the thousands of residents who were impacted by evacuation orders.
Residents in need of FEMA aid can apply at fema.gov/disaster/4558.
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