Garfield residents seek FEMA assistance
More than 100 Garfield County residents have applied for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency due to the impacts of wildfire this summer.
Statewide, 2,318 people have sought FEMA help, while 104 have applied in Garfield County, said FEMA spokesman Gary Gleason.
Most of the local assistance is in connection with the Coal Seam Fire, which swept up the Mitchell Creek Valley in West Glenwood June 8 and destroyed 29 homes. Another major fire, the Spring Creek Fire, hit Garfield County north of New Castle, but was contained to uninhabited areas.
FEMA has provided $18,289 to Garfield County residents to make repairs needed to return their homes to livable condition, or to cover any uninsured costs of alternative housing. Statewide, FEMA has paid out $208,748 for the same purposes.
In Garfield County, FEMA has approved payment of $40,781 worth of individual and family grants to cover replacement of critical items such as clothing, glasses and vehicles that were lost to the fires, and has distributed about $32,000 of that amount. Statewide, it has approved $344,748 in such funds and distributed $252,745.
Much of FEMA’s aid was made available when President Bush declared 54 Colorado counties, including Garfield County, as disaster areas.
FEMA also is contributing funding to cover 75 percent of the non-federal portion of the costs of fighting Colorado’s wildfires. It has issued 16 grants to help cover such costs this year.
“To put that in perspective, there had been eight (grants) in the last decade in Colorado,” Gleason said.
This week, FEMA extended until Aug. 23 the deadline for disaster unemployment assistance. This aid applies in part to those who couldn’t work because their place of employment was put out of operation, or they were unable to get to work, due to this summer’s fires. In addition, people who lost income due to fires – such as the self-employed, farmers and ranchers, and suppliers who lost business – are eligible for such assistance, even if they are not eligible for regular unemployment.
Also available are low-interest loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration for individuals and businesses who have suffered economic injuries as a result of the fires.
So far this year, 27 households or individuals in Colorado have received economic injury loans totaling more than $2 million, and 41 businesses have received $1.74 million more. County breakdowns regarding those loans were not available.
Gleason said he expects to see more applications for such loans in Garfield County as the summer goes on.
To be eligible for the loans, businesses don’t have to be close enough to the flames to feel the heat. Other businesses that suffered drops in tourist traffic or other losses due to the Coal Seam Fire or other fires would also be eligible, said Gleason.
“I think that throughout the Roaring Fork Valley we may see businesses that are feeling the impacts of the `Colorado on fire’ perception,” said Gleason.
Gleason is concerned that not everyone who is eligible for help in connection with wildfires is taking advantage of it.
“I think there’s probably a lot of help out there available for people and they’re not aware of it,” he said.
It’s been easier to reach those directly affected, such as through the loss of a home, but harder to find those peripherally impacted by fires, he said.
Gleason also sees cases in which people eligible for help feel it’s for someone else – that they don’t need it and can get by without it. They should realize that their taxes contributed to disaster assistance funding, and it’s intended for their use if they are impacted by disaster, Gleason said.
Speaking of taxes, those who suffered casualty losses that were uninsured or underinsured can write them off against their taxes – not this year’s taxes, but their 2001 taxes, to speed up the refund, said Gleason.
“The idea is to put the money in the hands of people today,” he said.
For more information on assistance programs, call 1-800-621-FEMA (3363).
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David Aguilar scans the landscape along the ridge above the Roaring Fork Valley floor where he lives and worries about the worst — another wildfire that could level his and possibly hundreds of other homes…