PASADENA, Calif.? -- Nearly six months removed from the devastation of the wildfires of 2007, Southern California is re-emerging. With helping hands from federal and state agencies, local governments, tribes and dozens of voluntary agencies, thousands of displaced residents are housed and hundreds of impacted businesses are getting stronger.
Recovery is about people
Counties in the wildfire areas host 26 million residents; a half million were evacuated, 10 perished. At least 320,000 evacuees were housed in temporary shelters, including more than 11,000 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. More than 19,000 individuals registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for federal and state assistance. Many were able to sign up before the fires were contained. More than 15,000 residents sought information and assistance at disaster recovery centers and local assistance centers provided by FEMA and the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (OES).
"FEMA and OES worked very hard to assure that families who got burned out of their homes did not get burned a second time by slow bureaucracy," said Michael Hall, federal coordinating officer with FEMA. "Together we've been able to provide maximum help to people on a quick turn-around basis."
In addition to seven counties, 12 American Indian reservations were affected by wildfires. The La Jolla Band of Luise?o Indians endured fires that scorched more than 90 percent of their reservation and claimed 59 homes.? On Feb. 7, 2008, leaders of five tribes gathered at the Santa Ysabel Community Health Center to form an inter-tribal long term recovery committee to help affected residents find support from other tribes and voluntary agencies after government assistance has been exhausted.
FEMA, through its Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program, provided supplemental funding to California to alleviate mental health problems caused or aggravated by the wildfires. Crisis counseling was made available in recovery centers and offered through hotline referrals.
FEMA also funded disaster unemployment for persons ? including self employed ? who lost work as a result of the disaster and who were not eligible for regular unemployment benefits. Disaster unemployment assistance was administered by the California Employment Development Department.
Legal services were available to individuals affected by the wildfires who lacked sufficient resources to secure adequate legal services on their own. The program was implemented by the Young Lawyers Division of the California Bar Association under an agreement with FEMA. Some of the people affected by wildfires are children. FEMA and OES presented a 2-hour, "FEMA for Kids" instructional program during February to hundreds of elementary school children in several schools to help them prepare for emergencies. The program featured demonstrations by the American Red Cross, local fire departments and FEMA and county OES staff to teach children to be calm and take care of themselves and their pets during stressful times.? Materials are available to help other schools put on similar programs.? Visit www.fema.gov/kids/ for more information.
Recovery is about numbers
The seven counties involved in the disaster ? Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura ? endured the scorching of more than 522,000 acres in 24 major fires. More than 3,200 structures were destroyed including more than 2,000 primary residences. Many of the lost homes were underinsured.
More than 20 states provided firefighters, emergency response specialists and equipment. Canada and Mexico joined the effort. Humanitarian workers provided 361,292 meals in evacuation she...