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Disaster relief could come swiftly for fire-ravaged Arizona counties

The Small Business Administration could rule in a matter of days on a disaster-relief request for Apache and Cochise counties in the wake of wildfires that recently scorched Arizona.

Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday requested the relief for the two counties, where the Wallow and Monument fires consumed nearly 570,000 acres combined and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes and businesses.

“It’ll go to the Washington office, and they will act on it in a matter of days,” said Mark Randle, a spokesman for the SBA office in Sacramento, Calif., which got Brewer’s letter Wednesday. “We’ll probably know next week.”

An Arizona Division of Emergency Management spokeswoman said a ruling might come even sooner, since SBA officials were on the ground with state officials last week to conduct preliminary damage assessments of the area.

“We could have a decision as soon as tomorrow,” Judy Kioski, the spokeswoman, said Thursday. “They’re usually quick to turn around a decision. This is a great part about them being part of the preliminary assessment team: They’ve already seen everything.”

The promise of assistance was welcomed by some in the fire-damaged areas.

“Our whole economy is based on tourism, the hunting, the camping, the photography,” said Becki Christensen, director of the Springerville-Eagar Chamber of Commerce. “This is going to have a devastating effect on our economy if we don’t get help.”

The preliminary damage assessment determined that Apache and Cochise counties did not qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency aid, but that both counties might qualify for economic injury disaster loans. Cochise County businesses and individuals might also be eligible for physical disaster loans.

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The economic injury relief comes in the form of low-interest SBA loans of up to $2 million to small businesses to help with payroll or other bills that would go unpaid because of the wildfires.

The physical disaster loans of up to $200,000 can go to either businesses or homeowners for damaged real estate. People who need to replace items such as clothes or cars damaged by the fire can seek up to an additional $40,000.

Amanda Baillie, executive director for the Sierra Vista Area Chamber of Commerce, was a little skeptical about the speed of federal assistance, but remained hopeful.

“We had businesses burn down, but this community, during this whole crisis, dealt with this very well,” Baillie said. “As long as there’s no bureaucratic red tape that makes it drag on, I think any assistance would be good.”

Sierra Vista Assistant City Manager Mary Jacobs said that while the Monument Fire did not enter the city limits, those affected are part of “one big community” which is happy to see federal aid coming.

“The families who lost their homes are our neighbors,” Jacobs said. “We just want to make sure they can be made whole so that they can get their lives back to normal.”

Christensen said a quick response could help, since the threat of rain damage during the July monsoon season is looming.

“We are also looking long-range to what the monsoons will do to the tourism,” Christensen said.

“We’re not over this yet,” she said. “(The money) would be helpful to our businesses. It’s scary to us. We’re not sure how we’re going to get through this.”

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Click image to enlarge

courtesy Kresent Gurtler

The Monument Fire burns about 9:15 p.m. on June 15, seen from about 5 miles away.

SBA 'not just for small businesseses'

Businesses and individuals in Apache and Cochise counties affected by the wildfires might be eligible for the following assistance from the Small Business Administration:

An SBA disaster declaration for Physical Damage is a low-interest SBA loan available to homeowners, renters, businesses of all sizes and private nonprofits to help with residential and business losses:

  • Homeowners may borrow up to $200,000 to repair or replace a disaster-damaged primary residence.
  • Homeowners and renters may borrow another $40,000 to replace disaster-damaged personal property, including vehicles.
  • Businesses of any size and private, non-profit organizations may borrow up to $2 million to repair or replace disaster-damaged real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory and other assets.
  • Small businesses and private non-profits may borrow to help meet working capital needs, regardless of whether the business suffered property damage.
  • Loans are for as little as 3 percent for individuals and nonprofits, 4 percent for businesses, on a term of up to 30 years.

An SBA disaster declaration for Economic Injury is for small businesses and most private non-profits of any size to help meet working capital needs caused by the disaster (regardless of whether the business suffered any property damage). It does not apply to homeowners or renters.

  • The maximum Economic Injury disaster loan is $2 million.
  • Interest rates are 4 percent for businesses and 3 percent for private nonprofits on loans of up to 30 years, depending on the applicant's financial condition.