Caldor Fire survivors plead with President Biden for federal assistance

Survivors of the Caldor Fire who lost their homes are pleading with President Biden to overturn a decision keeping them from individual federal assistance.

In a video produced by El Dorado County, survivors described losing everything and the painful process of trying to rebuild.

The 15th largest wildfire in state history burned more than 200,000 acres from October to August last year, flames leveled most of the town of Grizzly Flats.

"If we had FEMA assistance, I mean we would be able to start to rebuild them a home to have somewhere to live, otherwise our daughter that’s 14 may not have a home until she’s 18," said Candace Tyler, one of the survivors featured in the video.

The nearly six-minute video was a plea to President Biden and FEMA to overturn a decision to deny the state’s request to provide financial assistance to individuals.

Biden did approve the state’s request for public assistance and hazard mitigation assistance, but not for the Grizzly Flats residents trying to rebuild.

"It doesn’t matter what party you’re from," said Tobi Magdison. "People that need help, need help and it’s not right that other fire impacted areas have had less damage than us in the state were taken care of, and we’re not."

Biden visited the state to survey the damage from the Caldor Fire in September.

FEMA’s denial has prompted bipartisan outrage.

"'We’re going to take care of them and there’s a lot we can do.' Those were the president’s words spoken to these families in September," said Rep. Tom McClintock on the House floor. "I appeal to the president to use his authority to keep his promise to the victims of the Caldor Fire."

A FEMA spokesperson sent the following: "When evaluating requests for Individual Assistance, FEMA considers the following factors:

  • State fiscal capacity and resource availability
  • Uninsured home and personal property losses impacted
  • Disaster impacted population profile special populations
  • Impact to community infrastructure
  • Casualties
  • Disaster related unemployment

Federal disaster assistance supplements the efforts and available resources of state and local governments in responding to and recovering from damages beyond their combined capabilities.

Based on the documentation provided by the state and collected in our joint preliminary damage assessments, the agency determined that the impact to individuals and households from the Caldor Fire was not of such severity and magnitude to warrant the designation of the Individual Assistance program."

In response to the denial, California Senator Alex Padilla has introduced a bill to reform the federal wildfire disaster response.