Trump changes course, approves California relief for 6 fires

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SACRAMENTO, Calif.  — President Donald Trump’s administration abruptly reversed course and approved California’s application for disaster relief funds to clean up damage from six recent deadly and destructive blazes that have scorched the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Friday.

“Just got off the phone with President Trump who has approved our Major Disaster Declaration request. Grateful for his quick response,” Newsom said in a brief statement.

Neither he nor the White House gave details on why the administration shifted positions less than two days after it initially denied the state’s request for a declaration that officials said could provide the state with hundreds of millions of dollars.

The reversal came the same week the Pacific Gas and Electric utility cut off service to more than 40,000 Northern California customers to prevent powerful winds from damaging equipment and sparking wildfires amid a fall heat wave. Electricity was restored to most customers by Friday evening, PG&E said.

The utility better targeted outages this time after it was criticized in 2019 for cutting power to about 800,000 customers and leaving about 2 million people in the dark for days.

White House spokesman Judd Deere previously said California’s disaster declaration request “was not supported by the relevant data” needed for approval. He initially said Trump agreed with Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Pete Gaynor, who said in a three-paragraph rejection letter that the damage “was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the (state’s) capabilities.”

“The Governor and (GOP) Leader (Kevin) McCarthy spoke and presented a convincing case and additional on-the-ground perspective for reconsideration leading the President to approve the declaration,” Deere said in a statement after Trump’s change of heart.

A firetruck drives along state Highway 168 while battling the Creek Fire in the Shaver Lake community of Fresno County, Calif.AP

McCarthy thanked Trump in a tweet for providing “the assistance needed to rebuild and repair.”

Fellow Republican US Rep. Tom McClintock said in a tweet that McCarthy told him “the President has committed to reverse FEMA’s decision … and help is on the way.” Both congressmen represent areas harmed by wildfires.

The state had planned to appeal the denial and believed it had a strong case, Brian Ferguson, a spokesman with the governor’s Office of Emergency Services, said before the reversal.

Newsom asked for the major disaster declaration on Sept. 28 to cover fires in Fresno, Los Angeles, Madera, Mendocino, San Bernardino, San Diego and Siskiyou counties.