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Murray, Cantwell: Federal help needed for Washington wildfire victims

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SEATTLE — Members of Washington state's congressional delegation are asking the federal government to reconsider a decision denying help for individuals affected by huge wildfires in Washington state.

More than 300 homes have been destroyed by the wildfires in north Central Washington, and Gov. Jay Inslee has said the cost of destroyed properties in Okanogan County alone is estimated at more than $28 million.

President Barack Obama has approved federal assistance for Okanogan County and the Colville confederated tribes to help repair or replace public infrastructure lost in this summer's wildfires. The assistance approved means FEMA will reimburse Okanogan County and the Colvilles for 75 percent of the costs of eligible expenses related to disaster-damaged facilities such as roads, bridges, and public utilities.

But in a letter sent Wednesday to Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate, Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Reps. Doc Hastings and Dave Reichert urged the agency to review a decision that kept individual federal aid from people who lost homes or needed other help in Okanogan and Chelan counties.

"Local communities and state agencies have responded admirably, but a disaster of this magnitude requires long-term federal assistance to help these communities respond, rebuild, and cope with this tragedy," the letter said. "Because there are no comparable Washington state programs, FEMA assistance with housing and household goods is necessary."

In the letter, the elected officials say that in the small town of Pateros, for example, 87 homes were destroyed.

"In total, more than 30-percent of all housing units were destroyed in this small town," Murray, Cantwell, Hastings and Reichert wrote. "You can see the damage caused by these wildfires is significant and in spite of the large, rural geographic area the damage is in most cases highly concentrated."

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