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President Barack Obama declared this summer's Rim Fire a major disaster Friday, reversing an earlier denial of aid following an appeal by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Friday's declaration of a presidential major disaster frees up federal funding for the state, Tuolumne County and other local governments, and certain nonprofit groups. The money will pay for emergency work and the repair or replacement of roads and other structures damaged by the Rim Fire.

The blaze burned from Aug. 17 through Oct. 24, scorching more than 257,000 acres and is the third-largest wildfire in state history. It devastated the region's Yosemite-based tourism industry and caused $54 million in damage, according to the latest estimates.

Last month, though, the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied Brown's Oct. 8 request for a major disaster declaration, saying the fire's severity and magnitude did not justify it.

Brown appealed to Obama earlier this month and FEMA reversed itself Friday.

"This is welcome news for those impacted by this devastating wildfire, and I'm thankful for FEMA's careful reconsideration of the governor's request," Mark Ghilarducci, director of the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, said in a statement. "Even though the fire is out, the impacts to the local economy, environment and region haven't gone away. We look forward to FEMA's assistance in the important recovery work that has been underway since October."

Obama's order releases public-assistance money for Tuolumne County to pay for emergency work and the repair or replacement of fire-damaged roads and other facilities.

In addition, all counties can apply for hazard-mitigation money to prevent long-term risks to life and property.

PHOTO: Inmate firefighters walked along Highway 120 during the Rim Fire in August. Associated Press/Jae C. Hong



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