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President's Disaster Declaration

Mike Brown, Under Secretary for Emergency Preparedness and Response at the Department of Homeland Security
October 28, 2003

Mike Brown
Good morning. We are in California where the fires and the destruction are even worse than what you see on television. On behalf of President we want to extend our sympathy to the victims of these fires and to also extend our thanks to all the firefighters.

Zach, from R.I. writes:
It breaks my heart to see these people and their homes devastated. How do you most quickly put out these fires? How bad is it going to get?

Mike Brown

The firefighters are doing everything they can there are over 9,000 firefighters fighting these fires today. Hopefully we will have a little help from Mother Nature. The Santa Ana winds are expecting to die down and we are hoping that pacific coast winds to bring cooler temperatures and a little moisture.

Star, from Fairfax writes:
Are you pleased with the efforts thus far of those fighting the fires, providing shelters, etc. Give us an update.

Mike Brown
Absolutely. This is the 2nd major fire I've visited this year and ironically, when I visited the fires in Montana they were being fought by young men and women from the Angeles national forest in Los Angeles they worked long hours in Montana and now long hours in their home state.

These young firefighters represent the best of America who come from all backgrounds and places around the country and are dedicated to helping save lives and property.

Todd, from Alameda writes:
Are you seeing people who will not evacuate? Are they subject to fines penalties if they don't? Is this much of a problem?

Mike Brown

There are both forced and voluntary evacuations and some people are trying to wait until the last minute to evacuate which is understandable. But if you could see homes that I've seen where nothing is left standing but the chimney and every material possesion have been turned to ashes, you recognize that you must listen to professionals and if they say to evacuate you must do exactly that.

Mike, from Olmstead writes:
Where have you traveled so far? What will you are doing for the rest of the day?

Mike Brown
We landed at March Air Force Base last night around 6:30pm and on the way in had a view of the numerous fires -- we've been touring San Bernadino and we are looking at the Simi Valley fire and we'll meet with firefighters and victims in the L.A. area -- and in San Diego as well.

Enrique, from Phoenix writes:
Have you talked to families affected by the fires? Will they get relief?

Mike Brown
We are going to start visiting with the families in a couple hours and our message is that President Bush wants to make available all resources there are to help them. We will be providing things like emergency food, shelter, temporary housing and also trying to help local municipal governments with needs they may have.

Martin, from Tennessee writes:
Are things getting any better out there?

Mike Brown

Relatively speaking yes. Probably half of the fires are contained at a 55 percent or better. But half the fires are barely contained if at all. We still have a lot of dry wood , a lot of fuel, it is getting warm already this morning. The winds are pretty low right now, but the danger is still pretty high.

Tad, from East York writes:
What are your responsibilities out there? What are you doing throughout the day?

Mike Brown
First and foremost to give encouragement to the victims and the firefighters to let them know that the President is with them, to let them know that Homeland Security and FEMA are coordinating resources to help people and to make sure the federal government is doing what it should do to help people here.

Johannes, from Ergoldsbach, Germany writes:
Good morning Mr. Brown How much money will the federal government send to the regions in California, which are affected by the flames?

Mike Brown
The short answer is we don't know yet. Our focus for the foreseeable future is to do whatever it takes to fulfill the President's mandate to help people and we will tally those costs when the disaster is over.

Scott, from Washington DC writes:
I, like most American's I am sure, am intensely worried for the safety of the residents of southern California. Are there any preventive measures that could be put into place for next time that may help to prevent another disaster? For example, more National Park Rangers on duty to help patrol the large area.

Thank you for your time.

Mike Brown
The President has proposed his Healthy Forest Initiative which would take away a lot of fuel which spreads these fires and I'm certain that Secretary Veneman and Secretary Norton and others will look very closely at the causes of these types of fires to alleviate some of the causes.

Jen, from Reno writes:
Please send whatever resources you have out there. It is a horrible disaster.

Mike Brown
That is why I'm here. That is the President's mandate. We have helped the state through the Forest Service and USDA and Homeland Security to get additional firefighters and equipment from Arizona and Nevada.

For example we have 100 border patrol agents who have been assisting with the evacuation and FEMA and Homeland Security will now look at the types of monetary aid we can provide and we will continue to work closely with volunteer orgs such as Red Cross for help with food, shelter and emergency supplies.

Dawn, from Minot AFB, ND writes:
Dear Sirs, I was wondering why the S.California Naval Stations weren't asked to respond to fire fighting duty once the President declared the fires a disaster area? After all every individual in the Navy receives extensive fire fighting training.

Mike Brown
We very well may do that. We have talked to several pilots last night who were volunteering services who are moving supplies and equipment.

I think that is a good thing about FEMA being in DHS. It gives us a better opportunity to work with our partners in ways that we may have overlooked in the past.

Brooke, from West Chester, PA writes:
Each year California and the Southwest are faced with countless wildfires. With that being said, has FEMA and the Emergency Preparedness and Response, at the Dept. of Homeland Security, been effective at communicating the need to thin overgrown brush (flora), which will help to prevent, limit the scope of damage, and more easily contain wildfires.

Mike Brown
We have been successful but when you consider all the new people who have moved into these wild land urban interface areas we still have a lot of work to do in that area. FEMA and DHS spent a lot of time this Spring advising people how to prepare themselves for these kinds of disasters. I would encourage people to go to, or fema. gov and look up the wildfire hazards for what they can do to protect their homes and businesses.

Michael, from Powell, TN writes:
I am sorry to hear about the fires California keeps having. What keeps causing these fires out West and what can we do to help prevent them?

Mike Brown
Causes of fires can range from lightning strikes, sparks from railroad cars, littering cigarette butts or deliberately setting fires. And regardless of the causes, our focus needs to be on how do we prevent them and how do we prepare people to protect homes and families?

Tori, from Payson writes:
My brother's home is close to the fires. I don't know if his house was destroyed or not. He was evacuated. How does he get assistance?

Mike Brown
FEMA and Homeland Security will start setting up disaster relief centers and we will also provide and 800 number for people to call and register for assistance. Once people register for assistance, inspectors will call them and visit their homesite or their house and assess the damage and start assistance getting to them. In the meantime, I would encourage anyone who is a similar situation to contact the Red Cross at the evacuation centers for their immediate help. The Red Cross and other organizations have been a great partner with FEMA and we do appreciate the help they provide us.

Matthew, from Washington,In writes:
Mr.Brown, do you think it will reach the nearby cities?

Mike Brown
Unfortunately it is already here. I'm in San Bernadino right now and there are literally hundreds of homes already destroyed here.

Mike Brown
Thanks. I've got to run. Very busy out here. On behalf of the President we again want to extend our sympathy to the victims and our thanks to the firefighters and know that we will help in any way that we can, and I am now off to meet with victims of these horrendous fires.

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