Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today spoke on the Senate Floor early this afternoon to provide her colleagues with the latest information on the California wildfires.
At the time of Senator Feinstein’s remarks, there were 19 large fires burning throughout the State. According to reports, as many as 950,000 people had been evacuated, and the fire had burned through more than 420,000 acres and roughly 656 miles.
Following is the transcript of Senator Feinstein’s remarks on the Senate Floor:
“Mr. President, either my colleague Senator Boxer or I have updated the Senate each day on the California wildfire situation.
Senator Boxer is in California now, and I believe the President is as well. I'd like to give a brief update to the Senate.
So far, this is the largest evacuation of people in California history. It is the largest evacuation in the United States since Katrina, and San Diego remains the worst of the burning regions.
As of this morning, the President has approved individual assistance programs that will allow FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to make payments for rental assistance, home repair, and pay for some home replacement costs.
As soon as the fires die down and the wind in places is easing, FEMA will set up centers – one-stop shops where people can go for help.
I'd like to urge Californians who have been evacuated from their homes, who have their homes partially burned or burned to the ground, to go to FEMA centers and see what assistance is available to you.
This morning on television, I heard a family speak. I think they were from Escondido; I think they had 12 acres. They had a home, they had children, and the home was burned down. But the father said: ‘We have fire insurance.’
Then I heard another family, four young children, no fire insurance. The father had no relatives in the area. Fortunately, the wife has a mother with whom the family will be in the near-term. But they said: ‘We don't know what we'll do.’
For those people that are in the ‘We don't know what we'll do’ category, this is the job of FEMA: to be out there to open those centers and to offer help and aid to these people. So please, Californians, use this.
More than 950,000 people have been ordered to evacuate. More than 420,000 acres have burned. That's roughly 656 square miles. If you think of it, it's a huge, huge area.
More than 6,000 firefighters are battling 19 active fires. They range from the north of Los Angeles to San Diego, and they have crossed the Mexican border. More than 1,155 homes have been destroyed and 68,000 threatened. Two deaths are reported so far. I believe there are others.
Now, if the winds die down today, we'll be able, hopefully, to get a handle on it. The vast bulk of the damage now is occurring in populated areas.
The good news -- the Canyon fire in Malibu is 75 percent contained.
The bad news -- most of the other fires are uncontained and out of control.
Interstate 5, the main artery between San Diego and Los Angeles, was closed in both directions earlier near Camp Pendleton because of smoke. And in the northeast of San Diego, the town of Julian has been evacuated.
I'm particularly concerned about the coming days and the Herculean task of feeding, caring, and providing shelter to hundreds of thousands of displaced Californians. We've got more than 10,000 in Qualcomm Stadium, another 2,000 at the clubhouse at the Del Mar Racetrack.
The Red Cross is doing just great. Thank you, Red Cross. Thank you, Red Cross volunteers. They are manning at least three shelters that I know of and up to this point food, water, and sanitary facilities have been adequate.
I think there is a lot of food for thought for Californians in what’s happening in terms of the future. And perhaps it's too early to begin to talk about it.
I don't think there's any blame to be cast on anyone. I think everyone is responding -- the Governor, the mayors, Homeland Security, FEMA, and the President. And I am very grateful for this, and I know I'm joined in this by my colleague, Senator Boxer. She'll be back tonight, and I know she'll have stories to tell on the floor of the Senate tomorrow.
But I think we need to think a little bit in the future, particularly those of us who come from local government.
I spent 18 years in local government – nine as a county supervisor and nine as a mayor. And there's one thing I know, and that is local governments control zoning. And I think the local governments have to begin to look at their zoning – about the siting of new housing developments in floodplains in the northern part of the state around levees and the siting of large subdivisions in the path of Santa Ana winds in parched, dry areas of the state where these winds blow hard and hot.
In this case, at least up to this point, we believe that power lines blew down. The winds were so forceful, that they actually turned large container trucks on their side. And the fires were so strong and burned so hot that it melted the metal off automobiles, so that literally nothing was left.
It could sweep off of a ridge, and within minutes come down that ridge and just devour homes, take embers, and send them a mile or two away to start a new fire.
In San Diego, four years ago there was the Cedar Fire. It destroyed 2,000 homes. And now there's this fire in the same area.
So the question comes to local officials -- would local officials be well advised to take a look at zoning codes, and begin to protect areas that are prone to catastrophic wildfire from housing developments? I think the answer is yes.
Secondly, community fire plans. Community fire plans are very good things. Communities can come together. They've done it in the Cedar Fire area and they've done it quite successfully. To be able to establish a fire plan; how they keep a fire break from their house; what they can take down; the kind of ground cover they should have; the kind of roof that's fire-resistant; siding that's fire-resistant; and actually get some government help to implement these fire plans.
This is now going on in the Nevada Tahoe area, in the California Tahoe area as well.
So I believe very strongly that local officials should exercise their zoning control to see that citizens in the future are protected by staying out of heavily fire-prone and heavily flood-prone areas.
It's also pretty clear to me that we have to develop some catastrophic government-helped insurance.
I've been very concerned. Allstate Insurance Company pulled out of California, and they pulled out of California because they said it’s catastrophe-prone, it's fire-prone, and it's earthquake-prone. And Allstate doesn't want any part of it. So they are not insuring in California any longer.
Companies must not be allowed to cherry-pick the United States and only insure areas that are safe and secure, and say to other areas: ‘You're on your own.’ So we are kind of rethinking this area.
I think the State of California -- which has an earthquake authority that helps underwrite insurance in earthquake-prone areas -- perhaps should also develop a flood and fire authority where they can enter into the same kind of undertaking.
Just think about what it would be like to have four children, and stand in front of a television camera and say: ‘My house burned down. With it, all my possessions. All my children's possessions. All our photographs and albums and memories, and virtually everything we held dear. And we have no insurance.’
Think about it. Think about how you would feel if you were in that situation.
So, I think there's going to be a lot of food for thought coming out of these fires in terms of public policy. And I am delighted that my colleague, Senator Boxer, is there and I look forward to her report tomorrow.
We will have much more to say, I think, about the public policy that goes into the future for our state and other states that are catastrophe-prone.
I will just tell you one other little story.
I received a call a while ago from the head of the San Francisco Fine Arts Museum, saying that they had an opportunity to bring two paintings to show in San Francisco from the Met. And the insurance for those two paintings was $8 million. Just to bring them out for show. Why? Because insurance was being denied because California is a catastrophe-prone area.
This is just one other example of what’s ricocheting out there under the surface now.
I think the Senate has to become involved, because any one of us can have a catastrophe. Any one of us could have a major bombing, major earthquake, major flood or major fires.
And I think it's up to us to see that we have in place the regulations and the laws that enable people to get the insurance they need on a cost-effective basis to be able to restore their lives and rebuild once again.
So I thank the chair. I yield the floor.”