Joe Biden Visits New Mexico Amid Wildfires
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — President Joe Biden is focusing on his administration’s efforts to tackle wildfires during Saturday’s visit to New Mexico, where residents are enraged that federal officials allowed planned burns to spread out of control, leading to the largest blaze in recorded state history.
Although it has been put out on many fronts, the fire is still burning. According to federal officials, it destroyed over 430 residences in 500 miles (1.300 kilometers) of land since April.
Many thousands have been displaced from villages that were Spanish-colonial and are suffering high levels of poverty. The evacuations also caused immense environmental damage. The fear of fire is being replaced by concern over erosion and mudslides at locations where superheated flames penetrated soil or roots.
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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.”
New Mexico investigators tracked two sources of fires, which were started by federal forest managers to prevent future ones. 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.
Ralph Arellanes from Las Vegas, New Mexico stated that it is unlikely that ranchers who have modest means will be paid for the uninsured barns, sheds, and cabins they lost to 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. They might also have a camper. But a lot of that got burned.”
Federal Emergency Management Agency approved 890 claims for disaster relief worth $2.7 Million each.
The Biden administration granted eligible financial assistance on Thursday for the repairs of water facilities and irrigation ditches. 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.
Biden spoke to Los Angeles reporters before heading to New Mexico. He said that he supported having the federal government pay the cost of the damage caused by the fire. However, he stated it would require an Act from Congress.
Jennifer Carbajal said she evacuated two times from the impending wildfire at Pandaries, a family house at the foothills Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The home survived, while 50 nearby homes were destroyed by the fires.
“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.”
George Fernandez from Las Vegas, New Mexico claims that his family won’t be compensated for the fire-gutted and uninsured home in Mineral Hills. He also said it is not likely to receive compensation for his companion cabin, which was built almost a century ago by his grandparents.
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.”
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