fog.png
Wednesday December 7th, 2022 11:37AM

Biden ramps up federal help for New Mexico wildfire fight

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — President Joe Biden said Saturday he was escalating federal assistance for New Mexico as it faces its largest wildfire in recorded state history.

The fire began with prescribed burns that were set by the U.S. Forest Service, a standard practice that’s intended to clear out combustible underbrush. However, the burns spread out of control, destroying hundreds of homes across 500 square miles (1,300 square kilometers) since early April, according to federal officials.

“We need to be sure this doesn’t happen again,” Biden said during a visit to an emergency operations center in Santa Fe, where he met with local, state and federal officials. He was returning to Washington from Los Angeles, where he had attended the Summit of the Americas.

The president said the federal government would cover the full cost of the emergency response and debris removal, a responsibility that was previously shared with the state government.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told Biden that “your administration has leaned in from the very beginning” and that “we need the federal government to keep accepting responsibility.”

Biden said he also supports having Washington foot the bill for damages caused by the fire, but such a step would require congressional action.

Evidence of New Mexico’s struggle with wildfire was visible from Air Force One as the president’s plane approached. There were plumes of smoke in the distance, and rows of burned trees looked like blackened scars slashing through green forests.

Evacuations have displaced thousands of residents from rural villages with Spanish-colonial roots and high poverty rates, while causing untold environmental damage. Fear of flames is giving way to concern about erosion and mudslides in places where superheated fire penetrated soil and roots.

The blaze is the latest reminder of Biden’s concern about wildfires, which are expected to worsen as climate change continues, and how they will strain resources needed to fight them.

“These fires are blinking ‘code red’ for our nation,” Biden said last year after stops in Idaho and California. “They’re gaining frequency and ferocity.”

But the source of the current wildfire in New Mexico has also sparked outrage here.

A group of Mora County residents sued the U.S. Forest Service this past week in an effort to obtain more information about the government’s role.

The Forest Service sets roughly 4,500 prescribed burns each year nationwide, and Biden said the practice has been put on hold during an investigation.

Ralph Arellanes of Las Vegas, New Mexico, said many ranchers of modest means appear unlikely to receive compensation for uninsured cabins, barns and sheds that were razed by the fire.

“They’ve got their day job and their ranch and farm life. It’s not like they have a big old house or hacienda — it could be a very basic home, may or may not have running water,” said Arellanes, a former wildland firefighter and chairman for a confederation of Hispanic community advocacy groups. “They use it to stay there to feed and water the cattle on the weekend. Or maybe they have a camper. But a lot of that got burned.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved at least 900 disaster relief claims worth more than $3 million for individuals and households.

On Thursday, the Biden administration extended eligible financial relief to the repair of water facilities, irrigation ditches, bridges and roads. Proposed legislation from U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-N.M., would offer full compensation for nearly all lost property and income linked to the wildfire.

Jennifer Carbajal says she evacuated twice from the impending wildfire at a shared family home at Pandaries in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The house survived while about 50 neighboring homes burned along with the tanks that feed the municipal water system, leaving no local supply of potable water without truck deliveries.

“There is no long-term plan right now for water infrastructure in northern New Mexico,” Carbajal said.

She said matters are worse in many hardscrabble communities across fire-scarred Mora County, where the median household income is roughly $28,000 — less than half the national average.

“They barter a lot and really have never had to rely on external resources,” she said. “The whole idea of applying for a loan (from FEMA) is an immediate turnoff for the majority of that population.”

Jaclyn Rothenberg, a spokeswoman for FEMA, said the agency had more than 400 personnel in the state to work with residents and help them seek federal assistance.

George Fernandez of Las Vegas, New Mexico, says his family is unlikely to be compensated for an uninsured, fire-gutted house in the remote Mineral Hills area, nor a companion cabin that was built by his grandparents nearly a century ago.

Fernandez said his brother had moved away from the house to a nursing home before the fire swept through — making direct federal compensation unlikely under current rules because the house was no longer a primary residence.

“I think they should make accommodations for everybody who lost whatever they lost at face value,” Fernandez said. “It would take a lot of money to accomplish that, but it was something they started and I think they should.”

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Business, AP Business - Industries, AP Business - Utilities
© Copyright 2022 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Biden ramps up federal help for New Mexico wildfire fight
President Joe Biden says he is escalating federal assistance for New Mexico as it faces its largest wildfire in recorded state history
6:22PM ( 5 minutes ago )
Phoenix hits record as scorching heat grips the Southwest
Record high temperatures are hitting or are poised to land in California and Arizona as dangerous heat sweeps over the Southwest
5:56PM ( 31 minutes ago )
'Enough is enough': Thousands demand new gun safety laws
Thousands of people are rallying on the National Mall and across the rest of America in a renewed push for gun control measures after recent deadly mass shootings
5:52PM ( 36 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
'Enough is enough' say thousands demanding new gun measures
Thousands of people are rallying on the National Mall and across the rest of America in a renewed push for gun control measures after recent deadly mass shootings
4:23PM ( 2 hours ago )
Estonia opposition party opts to start coalition talks
A small conservative opposition party whose support is seen crucial in attempts to form a majority government In Estonia following the break-up of the governing center-right coalition earlier this month said on Saturday that it will start power-sharing talks with two other parties
2:27PM ( 4 hours ago )
Thousands take to US streets demanding action on gun laws
Thousands of people are rallying on the National Mall and across the rest of America in a renewed push for gun control measures after recent deadly mass shootings
2:20PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Ukraine: Russia said to be using more deadly weapons in war
Ukrainian and British officials have warned that Russian forces are relying on weapons with potential to cause mass casualties as they try to make headway in capturing eastern Ukraine
4:07PM ( 2 hours ago )
$5 gas is here: AAA says nationwide average hits new high
The nationwide average price for a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. has topped $5 for the first time ever
3:27PM ( 3 hours ago )
Charl Schwartzel wins $4.75M at golf's richest event
Former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel has banked $4.75 million by winning the richest tournament in golf history, while the event’s Saudi backers faced renewed backlash after a 9/11 victims’ group called for American players to withdraw from the rebel series
2:45PM ( 3 hours ago )
AP Business
Biden facing fire and anger during New Mexico visit
President Joe Biden is visiting New Mexico to talk about his administration’s efforts to tackle wildfires as residents smolder with anger over how federal officials allowed planned burns to spread out of control, leading to the largest blaze in recorded state history
12:28AM ( 17 hours ago )
US inflation at new 40-year high as price increases spread
The prices of gas, food and most other goods and services jumped in May, raising inflation to a new four-decade high and giving American households no respite from rising costs
5:36PM ( 1 day ago )
Stocks dive to another losing week as inflation worsens
Wall Street’s shuddering realization that inflation got worse last month, not better as hoped, sent markets reeling on Friday
4:38PM ( 1 day ago )
AP Business - Industries
Aging dams could soon benefit from $7B federal loan program
The federal government is taking the first step to set up a program that could offer more than $7 billion of loans to repair aging dams across the country
11:26AM ( 1 day ago )
US inflation hit a new 40-year high last month of 8.6%
The prices of gas, food and most other goods and services jumped in May, raising inflation to a new four-decade high and giving American households no respite from rising costs
10:57AM ( 1 day ago )
Small businesses are facing ‘summer of uncertainty’
Small businesses that depend on outdoor crowds and free-spending tourists aren’t sure what to expect this summer
10:06AM ( 1 day ago )
AP Business - Utilities
Phoenix hits record as scorching heat grips the Southwest
Record high temperatures are hitting or are poised to land in California and Arizona as dangerous heat sweeps over the Southwest
5:56PM ( 31 minutes ago )
'Enough is enough': Thousands demand new gun safety laws
Thousands of people are rallying on the National Mall and across the rest of America in a renewed push for gun control measures after recent deadly mass shootings
5:52PM ( 36 minutes ago )
Kyrgios says he faced racist abuse from crowd in Murray loss
Nick Kyrgios says he faced racist abuse from the crowd during a semifinal loss to Andy Murray at the Stuttgart Open
5:47PM ( 40 minutes ago )
Alaska high court reverses ruling that roiled House election
The special primary for Alaska’s only U.S. House seat is moving forward as planned following a tense legal fight over ballot access issues that had cast a shadow over the election
5:42PM ( 46 minutes ago )
$4.75M: Schwartzel wins richest golf event amid Saudi outcry
Former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel has banked $4.75 million by winning the richest tournament in golf history, while the event’s Saudi backers faced renewed backlash after a 9/11 victims’ group called for American players to withdraw from the rebel series
5:00PM ( 1 hour ago )