On Wednesday, Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) led a roundtable with local, state, and federal officials to discuss the ongoing cleanup efforts following the Gray and Oregon Road Fires. Also in attendance were organizations and victims who are working together to rebuild after the fires burned more than 22,484 acres and destroyed 366 homes in Spokane County between August 18-25, 2023.
The roundtable came just two days after Rodgers and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) sent a letter to President Biden requesting an immediate update on Governor Inslee’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration. CLICK HERE to read the full letter.
The discussion focused on the ongoing cleanup effort, securing Individual Assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for residents who lost their homes, restoring internet access to the Elk and Medical Lake communities, and underinsured homeowners struggling to get reimbursed.
It has been one roadblock after another for residents of Medical Lake and Elk in the first five months of recovery from the Gray and Oregon Road fires, Dick Ziehnert told Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rogers and other officials during a roundtable Wednesday.
Ziehnert is vice chair of the Spokane Region Long Term Recovery Group, a nonprofit that works with governments and community organizations to aid recovery efforts.
“They didn’t know what they were going to see when they went back home,” Ziehnert said.
When residents were able to return, they were told they couldn’t touch the piles of rubble until mandatory asbestos testing and mitigation was completed. Most insurance only covers about $10,000 of cleanup, causing the debris removal to eat up insurance money needed elsewhere, he said.
The problem is made worse by the lack of a decision by President Joe Biden on whether to issue individual aid to residents through FEMA, those at the roundtable said.
McMorris Rodgers and Sen. Maria Cantwell sent a letter to Biden Monday asking for an update on potential aid for victims of the fires.
Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) led a roundtable with local, state and federal officials to discuss recovery efforts following the Gray and Oregon Road fires that burned in Spokane County this past summer.
McMorris Rodgers spoke with community leaders and agency representatives to discuss the status of wildfire assistance and ongoing recovery efforts.
Rodgers: “It all comes back to a decision by the president—and the purpose in bringing everyone together today was to really raise awareness as to the need for a decision.”
WATCH on KHQ.com: Local leaders discuss wildfire recovery efforts for Medical Lake and Elk fires
Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers held a roundtable today on fire recovery efforts in the region.
[Three] Spokane County commissioners and Medical Lake Mayor Teri Cooper also attended. The mayor talked about a number of issues, including how Elk and Medical Lake have been without Internet since the fires.
Medical Lake Mayor Terri Cooper: “One of the biggest needs in the [Elk] community, actually, is they do not have broadband, neither does Medical Lake.”
Wednesday, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) held a roundtable in Spokane County to hear from state and local leaders, as well as those involved first-hand in the recovery effort, about what’s holding up the process. “They’re waiting, those who lost their homes and those who want to help meet the need,” McMorris Rodgers said. “Everything’s on hold.”
Mayor Cooper says much of the hazardous debris, asbestos “hot” or not, has yet to be cleaned up because of those delays. That’s as snow and rain leach those chemicals into the ground and toward the Spokane River.
It’s one reason Mayor Cooper is pushing for revamped disaster response within the state legislature, backing bills that would create long-term recovery programs and assistance.
“We need to start thinking about wildfires like hurricanes and tornadoes, the government comes in and does the public safety clean up because it’s all hazardous waste,” she said Wednesday.
“We just really want to impress on the White House and the president the importance of a decision,” McMorris Rodgers said.
Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers heard from county leaders today about obstacles that people are facing as they try to recover, including tens of thousands of dollars in debris cleanup and asbestos testing.
Rodgers: “They’re waiting. Those that have lost their homes and others that want to help meet the need. Everything’s on hold. So we just really want to impress upon the White House and the president the importance of the decision.”
The Gray and Oregon road fires reduced homes to ash last August in Eastern Washington.
Now lawmakers and community leaders are asking FEMA to at least give them an update on whether they can expect help.
Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers addressed the wildfire recovery during a roundtable discussion. [T]hroughout the discussion, one of the main points that came up was the issue of the underinsured.
“That includes problems like having to clear hazardous debris from land, conducting required state asbestos testing, replacing skeptics and sewers, and then the inflated cost of rebuilding from ashes.”
“The goal of today’s roundtable was to bring awareness and call for immediate response to Governor Inslee’s request for a major federal disaster declaration.”
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