County officials ‘not optimistic’ Poe fire will be declared disaster
One hundred and three houses.
That’s what stands between Butte County and the disaster declaration it’s seeking from the state due to last month’s devastating Poe fire, so it looks like the county will have to eat its losses.
The Poe fire, which was the most destructive, fastest-moving fire in Butte County history, charred 8,000 acres of foothill land and much of the tiny town of Yankee Hill. Forty-seven homes in Yankee Hill burned to the ground, along with 120 outbuildings and 155 vehicles. The county estimated that the fire, which apparently was sparked when a dry branch fell on a live PG&E power pole, caused upward of $6 million in damages.
Emergency Operations Officer Mike Madden said he was so surprised that the state denied the county’s request for a disaster declaration last month that he initially thought that some sort of computer glitch must have caused it. Instead, said state Emergency Operations Department information officer Sheryl Tankersly, it was simply that not enough houses had been damaged in the blaze.
“The state has a threshold of 150 houses damaged or destroyed for a disaster declaration,” Tankersly said. “The paperwork for Butte County says only 47 homes were damaged or destroyed.”
Still, Yankee Hill resident Gayle Miller said that with all the horrible stories of loss that abound around town, the Poe fire is indeed a disaster. Yankee Hill has a population of only about 3,000 people.
“Everyone here knows someone who lost their home,” Miller said. “It’s horrible. There’s a woman who just lost her husband two months ago, and her house burned down, and there’s another woman who was so distraught by the fire that she just died.”
A state disaster declaration, Madden said, would allow access to federal low-interest home loans for fire victims to rebuild and reimburse the county for its costly cleanup effort. Only 30 percent of the people who lost their homes to the fire had sufficient homeowner’s insurance to cover this loss.
He said he’s hopeful but “not optimistic” that the state will approve the county’s appeal.
“I think if they were going to approve it, they would have done it by now," Madden said. "It’s too bad, because the county doesn’t have the money to do what needs to be done."