HomeHome InsuranceFEMA funding exceeds $2 million, but Spokane County wildfire victims say they're...

FEMA funding exceeds $2 million, but Spokane County wildfire victims say they’re not getting enough

A victim of the Oregon Road fire received $3,000 from FEMA, but he said the small payout feels like a “slap in the face.”

ELK, Wash. — Recovery efforts are underway as homes in Medical Lake and Elk begin to rebuild after Spokane County’s devastating last wildfire season, and while federal assistance is available to those impacted, some residents haven’t received much.

Federal officials are in Spokane County helping wildfire victims apply for assistance. More than $2 million has already been approved, and Elk resident Justin Knutsen is among the first to receive some of it. When his request for assistance was finally received, Knutsen said he only received $3,000, which he said is not enough to replace everything he lost.

When the Oregon Road fire first sparked last August, Knutsen suffered burns on more than one third of his body after trying to save his numbers. 

RELATED: ‘Didn’t lose anybody that day, so everything’s good’ | Elk man injured in Oregon Road Fire returns home

“I’ve gone back for multiple treatments,” he explained. “Right now, it’s healed up really good.”

As his wounds continued to heal, Knutsen and his family applied for federal assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Like many applicants, his initial request for funding was denied because he already had home insurance. After an appeal, he was approved and given $3,000.

“We were hoping that they would come in and try and alleviate a lot of that stress,” Knutsen said.  “It was kind of a slap in the face. You’re coming out here to help, but you give chump change to even, the cost of everything of what everyone has, to just give us a little bit.”

FEMA officials said they understand residents’ frustrations but need to see where assistance has and hasn’t been given. 

Even if residents have some type of homeowners insurance, officials encourage everyone impacted by the fires to apply.

“I’d say stay assertive, stay engaged, and come back in and talk to those specialists,” said Duke Davis, a coordinating officer with FEMA. “It’s a needs based program, and every case will be looked at individually. And that’s the stage we’re in right now.”

According to Davis, applicants can receive up to $85,000 to cover housing assistance, replacements and repairs and personal property. There are also small business loans and state funding available for those in need of additional assistance.

“We are seeing large payouts and we’re still finding opportunities to help them again with those items that weren’t necessarily covered by their insurance policy,” Davis said.  “The state does have some assistance program. They’ve got some programs as well that can help out.”

Residents can apply for FEMA funding until April 20, 2024.

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