Government Shutdown Unlikely to Slow North Bay Fire Recovery

The burned-out remains of a gun shop in Santa Rosa on Oct. 9, 2017. (Jeremy Siegel/KQED)

Crews in the North Bay continued to clean up wildfire debris over the weekend, despite the ongoing government shutdown.

Federal disaster relief workers and contractors are not affected by the lack of an appropriations bill, as their funding comes from the separate Disaster Relief Fund. The Sacramento District of the Army Corps of Engineers posted a video on its Facebook page on Saturday showing a debris removal crew at work in the Fountaingrove community in Santa Rosa.

"When you're assigned to a disaster relief activity, you are charging to that fund, and none of us will be affected," said Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Nancy Allen. "So that includes the contracts and all of the administrative oversight that the Corps of Engineers provides."

Allen said debris removal has been completed in Lake County, and a total of 2,540 parcels have been cleared in Northern California, following a series of deadly October wildfires.

In Southern California, the prospect of disaster recovery being slowed to a halt by a shutdown led one Democratic congressman to support a temporary funding bill last week.

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Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, was one of only six Democrats in Congress to vote for a continuing resolution on Friday to fund the government. His district includes areas damaged by the Thomas Fire and ensuing mudslides.

"In advance of this vote, I called FEMA and other agencies," Carbajal told KQED. "Although some of the services and debris removal might continue, they couldn't assure us that all of the services and individual assistance would continue."

Without a bill to fund the government, some FEMA employees working indirectly to assist with disaster recovery could be furloughed.

"Processing of applications for individual assistance, for loans, for compensation, would not necessarily be processed because of the lack of staffing that's needed to process those claims,” Carbajal added.

FEMA spokesman David Passey said FEMA employees facing furlough could be support staff or those working on preparedness grant programs. But he emphasized that those working directly with recovery efforts will remain on the job.

"Everyone who is assigned to the current operations in the North Bay and in Southern California will continue to fulfill their disaster assignments," Passey said.

A shutdown contingency plan for the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA's parent agency, estimates that 18,028 of FEMA's 20,636 employees will stay on the job during the funding lapse.