State Watch

Biden: Federal government to fund ‘100 percent’ of recovery for wildfire sparked by Forest Service

FILE – A flare up near Cleveland, just down 519 from Mora, N.M., darkens the sky on Wednesday, May 4, 2022, where firefighters have been battling the Hermit’s Peak and Calf Canyon fire for weeks. New Mexico residents are suing the U.S. Forest Service for information on a massive wildfire that’s been burning in the state since late April. The agency has been criticized for its role in causing two wildfires that merged to become the largest blaze in New Mexico history. (Jim Weber/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP, File)

President Joe Biden on Saturday said the federal government is “covering 100 percent of the cost” for the response to a massive wildfire in New Mexico that was started by federal burns.

“We have a responsibility as a government to deal with the communities who are put in jeopardy,” Biden said in remarks at the emergency operations center in Santa Fe, N.M. “And today I’m announcing the federal government is covering 100 percent of the cost of debris removal and emergency protective measures for the next critical months.”

The White House later released a statement announcing the president had amended the New Mexico Disaster Declaration to push the percentage of those costs to be covered by the federal government from 75 percent, set by the disaster declaration in May, to 100 percent “for the first 90 days of the incident period.”

The White House said that the 90-day coverage period is meant to serve as a “bridge” from emergency operations to the potential passage of the Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act, a piece of legislation that has not yet been approved by Congress.

If passed, the act would require the Federal Emergency Management System to create a claims office to provide full compensation to those who have been injured or suffered financial losses due to the fire.

“This additional support will help ensure that New Mexico has no financial limitations related to immediate lifesaving and life sustaining operations related to the ongoing wildfires, including urgent debris removal,” the White House said of Biden’s order.

This comes after the Forest Service last month said it was responsible for the two fires that merged last month to form the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire, which Biden emphasized in his address is the “largest, most destructive wildfire in America so far this year and the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history.”

The Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fires each formed as a result of escaped federal pile burns, the agency said.

Biden acknowledged the role that the Forest Service played in the fire, saying the agency conducts 4500 prescribed burns each year and that “99.8 percent go as planned.”

“This time, tragically, it did not,” he said.

Updated at 9:35 p.m.

Tags Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire Joe Biden Joe Biden New Mexico Wildfire
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