Biden escalates federal funding for New Mexico wildfire fight – National

Chairperson Joe Biden said Saturday he is escalating federal support for New Mexico as it faced the largest wildfire in recorded state history.

The fire started with burns as prescribed by the U.S. Forest Service, a standard procedure for removing combustible bush. However, the fires 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 make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Biden said during a visit to the Santa Fe emergency operations center, where he met with local, state and federal officials. He’s back Washington from Los Angeles, where he attended the Summit of the Americas.

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

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham told Biden that “your administration has relied on it from the beginning” and that “we need the federal government to continue to take responsibility.”

Biden said he also supports Washington introducing a bill to compensate for the damage caused by the fires, but such a step would require congressional action.

The evacuations displaced thousands of residents from rural villages of Spanish colonial origin and high poverty rates, and caused significant environmental damage. Fears of fire are giving way to concerns about erosion and landslides in places where overheating fires penetrate the soil and roots.

The flames are the latest reminder of Biden’s concerns about wildfires, which are expected to get worse as climate change continues to unfold, and how they will strain the resources needed to fight them. back them.

“These flames are flashing code red for our country,” Biden said last year after stopping in Idaho and California. “They are increasing in frequency and intensity.”

But the origins of the current wildfires in New Mexico have also sparked outrage here.

A group of Mora County residents sued the US Forest Service last week in an effort to get more information about the government’s role.

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The Forest Service places about 4,500 regulatory burns across the country each year, and Biden said the method has been paused during the investigation.

Ralph Arellanes of Las Vegas, New Mexico, said many ranchers with modest means are unlikely to receive compensation for the uninsured cabins, barns and sheds that have been destroyed by the blaze.

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“They have their day jobs and their farm and ranch life. Arellanes, a former wilderness firefighter and president of the Spanish confederation of community advocacy groups. “They use it to be there feeding and watering the cattle on weekends. Or maybe they have a camper. But a lot of it was burned. “

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

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On Thursday, the Biden administration extended eligible financial assistance to repair water works, aqueducts, bridges and roads. The proposed legislation from US Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez, DN.M., would provide full compensation for nearly all lost property and income related to the wildfires.

Jennifer Carbajal said she evacuated twice from an impending wildfire at a family home in Pandaries at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountain. The house survived while about 50 neighboring homes burned down along with the tanks that supplied water to the city’s water system, leaving no drinking water supply on site without delivery trucks.

“There are currently no long-term plans for water infrastructure in northern New Mexico,” Carbajal said.

The problem is even worse in many disadvantaged communities across fire-stricken Mora County, she said, where the median household income is about $28,000 — less than half the national average.

“They trade a lot and have never really had to rely on outside resources,” she said. “The whole idea of ​​applying for a loan (from FEMA) is an immediate turnaround for much of that population.”

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

George Fernandez of Las Vegas, New Mexico, said his family is unlikely to be compensated for an uninsured, burnt-out home in the remote Mineral Hills area, as well as a companion cabin built by him. his grandmother almost a century ago.

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Fernandez said his brother had moved out of the home to a nursing home before the fire swept through – making direct federal compensation unlikely under current regulations because the home is no longer a residence. main residence.

“I think they should make room for everyone who has lost whatever they lost at face value,” Fernandez said. “It’s going to take a lot of money to get there, but that’s what they started and I think they should.”

© 2022 Canadian Press

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