Bay Area wildfire victims can apply for FEMA aid online, through app as COVID-19 pandemic forces social distancing

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Many of us know FEMA well here in Northern California.

During our busy wildfire seasons, the embers are still glowing when FEMA professionals are setting up shop. There, they will take applications from fire victims for grants and low-cost loans.

This year, however, is a bit different. With novel coronavirus concerns, the rollout of face-to-face FEMA meetings has taken a back seat to telephone, app and web-based applications.

"The online registration is significantly higher, about 49% of the intake of the 2,600 applications we have had so far, since the declaration," FEMA's Frank Mansell says. "47% have come from mobile apps. People are using their tablets and cellphones, and we have 7% using telephones, the conventional method."

Nearly everything that can be done in-person can be done on the FEMA app or website.

Nonetheless, fire zones will soon be seeing FEMA mobile disaster units, and FEMA will partner with the state for other physical locations.

However, FEMA's social distancing will continue with virtual damage inspections rather than on-site visits.

"We will be making a phone call to the homeowner and say, 'Can you describe the damage to us? Can you send us a photo of the damage?' and we will accomplish that inspection that way," Mansell says.

Eventually, some inspections will be made in person.

Get more information at the Disaster Assistance Improvement Program website.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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