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Biden expands disaster aid for Almeda and South Obenchain fire cleanup

FILE - In this photo taken by a drone, homes leveled by the Almeda Fire line the Bear Lake Estates in Phoenix, Ore., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

After previously agreeing to pay most of cleanup costs associated with Oregon’s Labor Day fires — including debris from the Almeda and South Obenchain fires — the federal government will now cover all costs.

President Joe Biden signed an order earlier this week that has the federal government covering 100% of all eligible costs related to the fires, according to a release issued Wednesday by the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency had previously agreed to cover 75%, according to the release and earlier Mail Tribune news reports. The expanded agreement will “cover a continuous period of 30 days, to be established by the state of Oregon” at a later date.

The state agency will work closely with FEMA to administer the money to local governments and partner agencies.

"Once that date is determined, all previously reimbursed FEMA costs for that period will be reimbursed for the full 100% total cost,“ the release states.

Behind the expanded disaster assistance were efforts from an Oregon delegation that included Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, and Reps. Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, Kurt Schrader and Suzanne Bonamici representing districts of Oregon.

According to a Wednesday release from Merkley’s office, the delegation made multiple efforts before they got their intended result.

"The Oregon delegation pushed the White House four times to make this determination, citing estimates that the cost of debris removal alone would top $622 million and total disaster costs would exceed $1 billion,“ the delegation’s release states.

Jackson County is one of nine Oregon counties FEMA will cover for debris removal costs, among 20 Oregon counties FEMA will reimburse for “emergency protective measures” such as evacuations and establishing operation centers, and among 10 of the state’s counties that will “also receive reimbursements for permanent preventative measures,” according to the delegation.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.