SEATTLE – The federal government will provide emergency assistance to help restore electricity in areas of Central Washington where wildfires have knocked out power, Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday.
Inslee got a promise of emergency assistance, which will include generators, replacing burned lines and poles and help from the Army Corps of Engineers, from President Barack Obama after briefing him on the devastation from the fires. Obama and Inslee rode into Seattle for a Democratic Party fundraiser after Air Force One landed at Boeing Field on Tuesday afternoon.
During the ride, Inslee said he was able to show Obama maps of the fires in Central Washington and brief him on “how enormous this threat is.” An estimated 350,000 acres have burned, the most in state history, and fire season still has months to go, the governor said during a telephone news conference.
“The administration is going to grant that emergency assistance that will be generated through FEMA,” said Inslee, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The state will submit a separate request for emergency assistance to help families who have lost their homes to the fires, but that will require a comprehensive accounting of the damages. “We can’t do that because the fires are still burning,” the governor said.
At his first fundraiser, Obama said the fires burning in Washington and throughout the West can be attributed, at least in part, to climate change.
“A lot of it has to do with drought, a lot of it has to do with changing precipitation patterns and a lot of that has to do with climate change,” he told the crowd of donors, according to the Associated Press.
Obama also called Pat Koczewski to extend his condolences on the loss of her husband from the fire, Inslee said. Rob Koczewski, a retired Marine and state trooper, suffered a heart attack and died while fighting to protect their home from the Carlton Complex fire.
Seattle was the first stop on a three-day fundraising trip for Obama, who flew Tuesday evening to San Francisco. Republicans have criticized the president for being away from the White House during a series of international crises in Ukraine and the Middle East.
Inslee, who at one point during the news conference made a pitch for Washington residents to donate to the Red Cross to help fire victims, rejected any criticism of Obama for attending two private fundraisers in Seattle, which included one for a Democratic Party super PAC with a ticket price of $25,000. The president greeted a small crowd of well-wishers when he got off the plane, but had no public events.
“We got lucky to have the president here the day I needed him,” Inslee said.