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Feds deny disaster aid to individual Washington wildfire victims

President Barack Obama denied a request Tuesday for disaster aid to individuals who lost homes and property in the Central Washington wildfires less than a day after approving a disaster declaration to help repair public structures.

Gov. Jay Inslee said he would appeal the denial of private aid with updated figures on the damage from the fires, which continue to burn. Spokeswoman Jaime Smith said it wasn’t clear why private aid was denied.

“They did not give us a reason,” Smith said.

The first disaster declaration, signed Monday evening, orders federal aid to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by wildfires from July 9 to Aug. 5. It makes money available for emergency work and the repair or replacement of fire-damaged roads, bridges and public utilities in Okanogan County and on the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. Other counties may be designated for aid after the Federal Emergency Management Agency surveys the damage, the White House said.

Current estimates of infrastructure damage in the area are approximately $35 million, Inslee’s office said.

But the state also estimates the Carlton Complex fire, which has now burned more land than any fire in state history, has destroyed 325 homes plus another 146 structures. That fire was listed Tuesday at 95 percent contained after burning more than 256,000 acres.

Now that much of the area is starting to cool, fire crews can get in for a better damage assessment, Smith said. If damages are greater than previously estimated, that information could be added to the state’s appeal, which must be filed within 30 days.

Inslee toured Winthrop and Twisp 10 days ago and told local officials he was optimistic Obama would approve both disaster declarations, but said there were no guarantees. The president approved an initial disaster declaration on July 22 to help with fire-fighting costs after meeting with Inslee while Obama was in Seattle for a campaign fundraiser.