Western North Carolina counties are continuously filing for federal emergency assistance as officials deploy more resources to fight wildfires, and disaster relief is still available for those affected by October flooding during Hurricane Matthew.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is active in more than half of North Carolina’s 100 counties, either providing individual assistance to past flooding victims or emergency funds for communities battling mountain blazes for more than two weeks. FEMA has also issued fire management assistance declarations for areas of South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia.
2,000+ Fire personnel battling blazes in Western North Carolina
The offices of federal elected officials from North Carolina say they’re constantly monitoring FEMA’s response to ensure residents and local officials get the help they need.
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In one case, Western North Carolina congressman U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows and his staff ventured to a fire incident command center late one night near the Party Rock fire affecting three mountain counties to help officials there go over FEMA paperwork. The application for emergency funding help was approved.
When people need the government the most, we’ve been there to help cut through the red tape.
Wayne King, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Mark Meadows
FEMA recently awarded emergency aid grants for several counties in the western part of the state where fire personnel are working to control wildfires under gusty, dry conditions. Two more counties – Swain and Graham – applied Monday for federal assistance to recoup costs associated with multiple fires. The federal grants will cover up to 75 percent of fire suppression costs.
The potential millions of dollars in federal assistance funds for the fires come as FEMA has already approved more than $152 million in flood-related insurance payments, grants and loans for people living in central and eastern North Carolina.
Additional funding was announced Tuesday for a total of 49 counties impacted by Hurricane Matthew. Those funds come from FEMA’s public assistance program to help pay for debris removal, emergency protective services, and repairs to infrastructure such as roads, bridges and utilities.
U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis’ Washington and district offices are engaged with FEMA and state agencies working both disasters. For residents affected by Hurricane Matthew, the senators worked to extend some income tax filing dates.
Tillis’ office staff said Monday that it is keeping an eye on how local economies will be affected by potential drops in tourism due to the spread of wildfires across at least 10 counties.
Meadows, a Republican from Cashiers, and fellow Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Republican from Denver, have spent time in communities affected by wildfire evacuations and billowing smoke.
“This has been a priority for our office. When people need the government the most, we’ve been there to help cut through the red tape,” said Wayne King, deputy chief of staff for Meadows, in an interview with McClatchy on Monday.
King and Meadows have worked directly with county emergency management and state forest service officials to help with FEMA paperwork and eligibility requirements for federal emergency funds. In October, King said, Meadows was active in surveying Hurricane Matthew damage and FEMA’s response as part of his duties with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is partly responsible for oversight of FEMA.
The partnership between federal and local emergency management offices has run smoothly so far, according to North Carolina’s congressional members and the office of Gov. Pat McCrory.
At the height of the mountain fires, more than 2,000 firefighters were on site attempting to contain and put out the forest fires. Those firefighters came from across North Carolina and from other states.
The extra hands have helped tremendously as the mountain and rural areas of Western North Carolina depend largely on small fire departments – many composed of mostly volunteers, said Mike Cook, manager of North Carolina Emergency Management’s western branch.
In addition to FEMA funds helping offset strains on local and state budgets, Cook said, an account for donations to assist western firefighters has been set up through the Skyland Fire and Rescue Department. To give to the Western North Carolina Firefighter’s Fund, corporations and individuals can mail monetary donations to the Skyland Fire and Rescue Department, P.O. Box 640, Skyland, NC 28776.