Cattle ranchers and other residents who lost a combined $26 million in the SCU Lightning Complex fires can now apply for federal aid.
They became eligible for the relief funds earlier this week when President Donald Trump expanded his so-called major disaster declaration to include Santa Clara County and seven other California jurisdictions.
Local officials got word of the revised declaration on Tuesday, nearly a month after county Supervisor Dave Cortese implored Gov. Gavin Newsom to add the South Bay to the list of areas qualified for FEMA aid since Aug. 22. Residents who wish to apply for the recovery benefits can now do so by registering through fema.gov/disaster/4558.
“I am relieved that Santa Clara County residents will have access to federal funding to help them recover from this disaster,” Cortese said in announcing the revised declaration. “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.”
Presidential disaster orders allow people in impacted areas to apply for safety-net help such as cash reimbursements, crisis counseling, housing and unemployment benefits and legal services. They also fund emergency response, recovery and protective measures to tribal and local governments.
The White House approved California’s request for a presidential disaster declaration on Aug. 22, which extended FEMA aid to Lake, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano, Sonoma and Yolo counties. Monterey County was added to the list a couple days later.
Supervisor Cortese, whose district extends into the backcountry behind Mt. Hamilton, toured the Diablo Range from San Jose to beyond the Lick Observatory to the San Antonio Valley to survey the damage. He reported seeing miles of black scorched earth where vibrant grasslands once fed more than 13,000 head of cattle.
In all, the SCU fires devoured nearly 397,000 acres in Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Alameda, San Joaquin, Merced and Stanislaus counties. By the latest assessment, the SCU Complex is 98 percent contained.
Initial damage estimates for the SCU zone put the loss of cattle and grazing lands at $26 million, according to a report by the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. That estimate doesn’t even account for the loss of roads, cabins, barns and other buildings.
The university report also notes that the fires had a negative effect on water quality and quantity because of it extending to the Calaveras and San Antonio reservoirs in Alameda and Santa Clara counties. The SCU fires also damaged acres of public parklands, destroyed water tanks and utility systems and displaced workers such as heavy equipment operators.
To view a map of the damage, click here.