In response to three devastating wildfires that ravaged Southern California this weekend, a Federal Disaster Declaration was issued yesterday for the affected counties, including Santa Barbara County.

David Paulison, acting administrator of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency announced yesterday that the California wildfires constitute a “major disaster,” paving the way for a stream of federal funding into the affected areas. The decision came after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent a letter Tuesday to President George W. Bush requesting the disaster declaration.

“This declaration means that an enhanced level of resources and assistance will be available from the federal government for those impacted by the devastation wrought by the Tea Fire in Santa Barbara County,” Pedro Nava, state assembly member and chair of the Joint Committee on Emergency Services and Homeland Security, said in press release. “Many families lost everything in the fires. This extra help will go a long way for those most in need at a trying time.”

Assistance will include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals recover from the losses sustained in the fires. Additionally, funding will be made available to state and local governments on a cost-sharing basis for debris removal and emergency protective measures.

The declaration covers all four counties affected by the fires, namely Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and Santa Barbara Counties.

The fires began last Thursday in the hills above Montecito. The Tea Fire has since been extinguished, but not before it burned 210 homes and nearly 2,000 acres.

The two other wildfires – the Sayre Fire in Northern Los Angeles County and the Freeway Complex Fire in Riverside and Orange Counties – are both now 100 percent contained. The Sayre Fire burned 11,262 acres and 615 structures, while the larger Freeway Complex Fire burned 30,305 acres and 155 structures, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.