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Feds Reject Disaster Status For Texas Wildfires

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A bull tries to escape a running wildfire on April 19, 2011 in Graford, Texas. (credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

A bull tries to escape a running wildfire on April 19, 2011 in Graford, Texas. (credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/AP) - The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is defending its decision to refuse to provide more assistance to Texas after devastating wildfires, which have scorched at least 2.2 million acres since November.

Rachel Racusen, a spokeswoman for FEMA, said Wednesday that federal assistance had already been provided to Texas through grants for response activities. There is no need for additional support at this time, she said, based on information provided by the state. “Over the past few months, FEMA has awarded over 20 fire management grants to the state, which provide targeted funding to help with firefighting efforts,” Racusen said, “including 16 in April alone.”

Indeed, a federal disaster management team was brought in to coordinate a response to a massive wildfire near Possum Kingdom Lake last month. That wildfire alone blackened hundreds of thousands of acres and destroyed more than 150 homes. The federal team, which included the U.S. Forest Service, was able to get the fire contained.

Racusen added that FEMA will continue to work closely with state and local emergency management officials.

A federal disaster declaration would have made Texas eligible for response and recovery assistance from the federal government. The state’s original request included a plea for direct federal assistance which includes, among other things, firefighting resources and emergency measures to protect public health and private property.

The request was to assist with the ongoing wildfire season, which has already spawned about 9,000 fires and led to the deaths of two firefighters – in separate incidents — in April. More than 200 Texas counties are under outdoor burn bans and the Texas Forest Service said that West Text remains critically dry.

Gov. Rick Perry criticized the White House late Tuesday for rejecting his April 16 request for a federal disaster declaration and additional help, which was submitted before deadly tornadoes swept across Alabama. Perry said that he is “dismayed that this administration has denied Texans the much-needed assistance they deserve. It is not only the obligation of the federal government, but it’s the responsibility under law to help its citizens in times of emergency.”

It is rather ironic that Perry – known to be intensely critical of federal involvement in state affairs – is now upset that federal officials are not getting involved. CBS 11 News was told that the Governor’s office is considering an appeal of the denial, which must happen within 30 days.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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