Complete coverage of Texas wildfires

FEMA Defends No More Help Over Texas Wildfires

Wednesday, Aug 15, 2012  |  Updated 11:37 AM CDT
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Gov. Rick Perry says Texans were burned by Washington after the federal government rejects a request to declare nearly all of the state a major disaster because of wildfires.

Omar Villafranca, NBCDFW.com

Gov. Rick Perry says Texans were burned by Washington after the federal government rejects a request to declare nearly all of the state a major disaster because of wildfires.

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FEMA Won't Help With Fire Recovery

Even with fires still burning in West Texas, FEMA has turned down the state's request for a major disaster declaration.
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency defended its decision to refuse to declare nearly all of the state a disaster in the wake of devastating wildfires, saying Wednesday that the state has already received sufficient U.S. government assistance.

Late Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry criticized the White House after learning that his April 16 request for a federal major disaster declaration and additional help had been rejected.

"I think we've had 9,000 separate fires in the state of Texas," Perry told reporters in Austin on Wednesday. "The federal government has only helped us with 25 of them. That's inappropriate."

But a spokesperson in Perry's office confirmed that of the roughly 9,000 reported wildfires this season, the state has only applied for 25 fire management grants through FEMA. And every request has been awarded to the state, the Perry representative said.

A FEMA spokesperson confirmed that the agency awarded Texas 25 "FMAGS" this fire season. The representative couldn't put a dollar amount on the how much the grants were for.

The FMAGS help firefighters pay for things such as equipment repairs, food and shelter. The funds do not help fire victims with recovery efforts.

In a statement to The Associated Press on Wednesday, FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen said that the federal government has already provided Texas with assistance.

"FEMA has been in close contact with the state since the fires occurred and, based on the information they provided, it was determined that there was not a need for additional support at this time," Racusen said. "Over the past few months, FEMA has awarded over 20 fire management grants to the state, which provide targeted funding to help with firefighting efforts, including 16 in April alone."

In 2006, Texas was granted a disaster declaration -- and $19 million in federal aid -- after 1.9 million acres burned, according to FEMA. Wildfires since November have blackened at least 2.2 million acres and damaged or destroyed more than 400 homes across the state.

FEMA will continue to work closely with the state and local emergency management officials, Racusen said. Perry said the state will consider all its options, including an appeal, which must take place within 30 days.

"I am dismayed that this administration has denied Texans the much needed assistance they deserve," Perry said in a statement Tuesday night. "It is not only the obligation of the federal government, but its responsibility under law to help its citizens in times of emergency."

The governor isn't alone in his fight for funds for Texas. Twice in the past month, U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison have written to the Obama administration urging them to honor Perry's request.

"When nearly 7,000 individual wildfires burn through more than 2.2. million acres, result in loss of life, and destroy homes, businesses, farms and ranches across the state, it's hard to understand how these conditions don't spell "disaster" for this administration," said Cornyn on Wednesday. "We've yet to enter the hottest months of the year, and already wildfires have wreaked havoc in Texas -- yet our state has not received sufficient federal disaster aid. I will not stop fighting until Texas receives its due attention from President Obama and his administration."

Last week, Perry criticized President Barack Obama's administration for its speedy disaster declarations for areas hit by the tornadoes in the South that killed more than 300 people while Texas' request went unanswered.

"You have to ask, 'Why are you taking care of Alabama and other states?' I know our letter didn't get lost in the mail," Perry said Thursday.

His April 17 request for a disaster declaration for 252 of the state's 254 counties came before last week's wave of tornadoes and other damaging storms.

A "major disaster declaration" would have made the state eligible for help in responding to and recovering from the emergency.

Two firefighters died in separate incidents in April. Elias Macias Jaquez, who volunteered with the Cactus department, suffered severe burns. Gregory Mack Simmons, who was an Eastland firefighter, was killed after apparently being hit by a vehicle while in a smoke-filled area.

More than 200 Texas counties have outdoor burn bans as scattered wildfires continue. West Texas remains critically dry, according to the Texas Forest Service.

NBC DFW's Omar Villafranca contributed to this report.

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