Grizzly Flats Residents Still Broken Years After Wildfire

Over 600 houses were lost in the Caldor Fire in Grizzly Flats, California, which caused $81.8 million in damage in less than 15 minutes. FEMA found that the blaze was not of sufficient severity and extent to merit the designation of the Individual Assistance program, despite President Joe Biden’s assurances to the contrary. Edwina Grefsheim and the other inhabitants of Grizzly Flats have been waiting almost two years for FEMA aid.

Damage from the fire, estimated at $81.8 million, made it the 15th worst in California’s history. After President Biden visited California in September 2021 and flew over Grizzly Flats, many believed he might reconsider FEMA’s decision. Republican Rep. Kevin Kiley, Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein, and other local officials have written to Biden many times to protest his decision, but to no avail. Melissa White and the other Grizzly Flats residents are making do in RVs parked on their previous land.

Despite Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom’s request for Individual Assistance, FEMA only granted Public Assistance to assist inhabitants of Grizzly Flats in clearing up debris. Based on available funds and the level of damage, FEMA decides who will get relief.

Damage to property, population changes, number of fatalities or injuries, and the number of unemployed all play a role in deciding who is eligible for assistance. The agency bases its assistance choices on National Emergency Management Information System data.

Locals hold the U.S. Forest Service responsible for the devastation since they withdrew all firefighting resources and barely finished a fraction of the Trestle Project. Many residents of Grizzly Flats filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service in August 2023 for failing to adequately respond during the fire’s first, most critical hours.

To assist their fellow citizens, the people of Grizzly Flats have organized a community Facebook group — Grizzly Flats Rebuild Coalition.

An additional resource program is called the West Slope Foundation.