“It will be a three-to five-year recovery process. Basically, we live in the hillsides and we can’t let our guard down,” says Philippe Eskandar, City Administrative Analyst for Westlake Village. “People lose sight of the fact that embers fly far; when the city says ‘leave,’ you don’t second guess.”
Driven by powerful Santa Ana winds, the Woolsey Fire burned more than 97,000 acres and is now considered the most destructive wildfire in Los Angeles County’s history.
Insurance adjusters and FEMA assessment teams were on the ground to survey the damage even as the fire burned in a southerly direction from Simi Valley threatening the communities of Bell Canyon, West Hills, Hidden Hills, Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Oak Park, Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks and destroying much of Malibu.
While homeowners are eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance and (maybe) homeowner’s fire insurance to cover costs, each city must assess the damage and pay for cleanup in the aftermath.
Fortunately, individuals, small businesses, and cities are eligible for the more than $34 billion in FEMA funds allocated by the government from a Major Disaster Presidential Declaration issued on November 13.
According to the government release, the President’s action makes federal funding available to affected individuals in Butte, Los Angeles, and Ventura counties. Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.
Federal funding is also available to state, tribal, local governments, and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work in Butte, Los Angeles, and Ventura counties.
Federal funding is also on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide. Malibu, the most heavily damaged city, will tap into those funds specifically to clean up debris and ensure public safety.
“The City is planning to apply for FEMA Public Assistance to cover the costs of Category A (debris removal) and B (emergency protective measures) work, which at this time are the only categories approved in the current federal declaration,” wrote Reva Feldman, City Manager for the City of Malibu. Some other costs will be covered by our insurance; costs that cannot be paid from those two sources will have to be covered by the city; the exact amounts for all of this is still being determined.”
Gary J. Lysik, City Manager for the City of Calabasas, said that they did not suffer extensive damage to any public structures.
“FEMA already visited the City of Calabasas and based on the amount of destruction to city-owned property, it currently appears that the city’s insurance will cover the cost of replacement,” wrote Lysik. “The loss to the city will then be the amount of the insurance deductible of $10K, which FEMA will reimburse the city. My only hope is that the community fully recovers from the fire’s devastation and that we can be better prepared to deal with whatever comes next.”
Robin Godfrey, Marketing and Communications Analyst for the City of Thousand Oaks, responded by e-mail that they lost 30 residential and one commercial properties within the city with regard to how they are working with FEMA to address expenditures and damage.
“Finance reported that our primary infrastructure cost related to the fires was smoke remediation (cleaning) at the Civic Arts Plaza and that was covered by our insurance,” Godfrey wrote. “We are in the beginning stages of working with the County and FEMA to explore possible reimbursement of additional staffing expenses.”
Philippe Eskandar, City Administrative Analyst for Westlake Village, reported that they lost about 20 homes south of the 101 Freeway near the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains.
“There was damage to a few facilities such as Westlake Community Park,” he said. “We will apply to FEMA for debris removal; it’s a process working with the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management, FEMA, and the California State of Emergency Management.”
Eskander said that the government had response teams in the community within one week after the fire and they went door to door around the community to assess damage.
“Natural disasters, fires, and earthquakes, we have to be prepared,” he said. “People lose sight of the fact that embers fly far; when the city says ‘leave,’ you don’t second guess.”
Despite the mandatory evacuation orders, Eskander said he and about 100 city employees stayed in place at City Hall throughout the fire to retain continuity of governance.
“We are very lucky to have the structures that we do,” he said. “Firefighters minimized the damage and while we don’t have a dollar value it is absolutely essential to be prepared for the rainy season. We learned lessons from the reactions to this fire…it will be a three-to five-year recovery process. Basically, we live in the hillsides and we can’t let our guard down.”
WILDFIRE ASSISTANCE FROM REP. TED LIEU
Los Angeles County and Ventura County experienced the most devastating wildfires our community has ever faced. Thousands of people have been forced to evacuate their communities and have seen their homes destroyed, businesses devastated, and their towns ravaged. It has been a heartbreaking few weeks for our community as we continue to reel from this disaster. If you have been impacted by fires, please continue to follow the instructions of local officials.
For the most up-to-date information on the Woolsey Fire, please visit: lacounty.gov/woolseyfire/.
For those of you beginning the recovery process, there are a number of resources available to you. Disaster Assistance Centers (DACs) have been set up to help affected individuals apply for aid. At the DACs state, county, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Small Business Administration, and other recovery specialists will be available to answer questions and provide assistance. “See Resources” below for two DACs that stand ready to assist. For the most updated hours of operation, please visit: lacounty.gov/woolseyfire-disaster-assistance-centers/.
Please know I am committed to working with our local, state, and federal officials to ensure that the federal government provides all necessary resources to support our community. What we have seen over the last few weeks is that our community comes together in tough times. We are ready to assist and help our community rebuild. Should you need anything, my staff and I are here to help.
Ted W. Lieu, Member of Congress
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON APPLYING FOR ASSISTANCE
- To apply for assistance, please visit: wildfirerecovery.org/current-incidents/november-2018-fires/; or disasterassistance.gov/.
- To access Rep. Lieu’s fire recovery guide: lieu.house.gov/la-county-fire-updates-0.
Help from county, federal, and state government agencies is one of the next steps to getting back to a normal way of living. Here are some resources available:
- Los Angeles County Disaster Assistance Centers (DACs): Two locations: Conrad L. Hilton Foundation (30440 Agoura Road, Agoura Hills) and Malibu Courthouse (23525 Civic Center Way). Hours: 1-8 p.m. Nov. 26-29; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Nov. 30 and Dec. 1; 1-8 p.m. Dec. 3-6; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Dec. 7-8. Check for updates on hours and dates. lacounty.gov/woolseyfire
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Uninsured victims of the Woolsey fire in Los Angeles and Ventura counties who have lost or damaged prescriptions may be eligible for no-cost, 30-day supply replacements of certain medications. Uninsured patients may apply at any Emergency Prescription Assistance Program participating pharmacy through Dec. 31, 2018. Call (855) 793-7470 to learn if medications or durable medical equipment (canes or walkers, for example) are covered by EPAP. Find participating pharmacies: phe.gov/epap
- Federal Emergency Management Agency: Individuals, households and businesses may apply to rebuild and repair homes and other structures. Anyone impacted by the fires, including employees, employers and volunteers, in Los Angeles and Ventura counties should register with FEMA as soon as possible. 800-621-3362. disasterassistance.gov
- Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office: Homeowners in Los Angeles County whose properties have been damaged (a minimum of $10,000) or destroyed may be eligible for property tax relief by filing a Misfortune and Calamity claim for property tax relief. Assessor’s Disaster Relief Hotline: 213-974-8658. assessor.lacounty.gov
- Small Business Administration: Federal loans are also available for business owners, homeowners and nonprofit organizations. The SBA loans to businesses are used to repair or replace disaster-damaged inventory, property and supplies. Homeowners and renters may also qualify for loans to repair or replace homes and personal property. Customer Service Center, 800-659-2955. Apply online: disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/Information/Index
- Unemployment assistance: Some employees may be eligible for unemployment benefits due to the fires. File by phone, 8 a.m.-noon Monday-Friday: 800-300-5616; in Spanish, 800-326-8937. edd.ca.gov/Unemployment/UI_Online.htm
- Insurance company issues: California Department of Insurance consumer hotline: 800-927-4357. insurance.ca.gov/01-consumers/140-catastrophes/WildfireResources.cfm
OTHER DISTRICT OFFICES
- Congressman Brad Sherman’s website for more resources: sherman.house.gov
- Congresswoman Julia Brownley’s website for more resources: juliabrownley.house.gov/fire-recovery-resources