Biden faced fire and anger during visit to New Mexico

Biden faced fire and anger during visit to New Mexico

Biden faced fire and anger during visit to New Mexico

President Joe Biden will visit New Mexico on Saturday to discuss his administration’s efforts to deal with wildfires as residents smolder in anger at how federal officials allowed planned burns to spiral out of control, sparking the largest fire in the recorded state. state history.

The fire has been contained on multiple fronts, but continues to burn in dangerously hot and dry conditions. It has destroyed more than 430 homes spread over 1,300 square kilometers since early April, according to federal officials.

Evacuations have displaced thousands of residents of rural villages with Hispanic colonial roots and high poverty rates, while causing untold environmental damage. Fears of flames are giving way to concerns about erosion and mudslides in places where superheated fires have penetrated the soil and roots.

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

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

In New Mexico, researchers tracked the two source fires to burns instituted by federal forest managers as preventive measures. A group of Mora County residents sued the US Forest Service this week in an effort to gain more information about the government’s role.

Ralph Arellanes of Las Vegas, New Mexico, said many farmers with modest means are unlikely to receive compensation for uninsured cabins, barns and barns destroyed by the fire.

“They have their day job and their life on the farm. It’s not like they have a big old house or hacienda – it could be a very simple house with or without running water,” said Arellanes, a former forest firefighter and president of a confederation of Spanish community advocacy groups. “They use it to feed and water the cattle over the weekend. Or maybe they have an RV. But a lot of it has been burned.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved 890 emergency claims worth $2.7 million for individuals and households.

On Thursday, the Biden administration extended eligible financial aid to repair water supplies, irrigation ditches, bridges and roads. Proposed Legislation from Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, DN.M., would offer full compensation for nearly all lost property and income related to the wildfire.

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

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

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

“They barter a lot and have really never relied on outside sources,” she said. “The whole idea of ​​applying for a loan (from FEMA) is an immediate turn-off for the majority of that population.”

George Fernandez of Las Vegas, New Mexico, says his family is unlikely to receive compensation for an uninsured, burnt-out house in the remote Mineral Hills area, nor for a cottage built by his grandparents nearly a century ago.

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

“I think they should make accommodations for everyone who’s lost what they’ve lost,” Fernandez said. “It would take a lot of money to get to that, but it was something they started and I think they should do that.”