State committee approves $21M for fire relief funds in SW New Mexico and Ruidoso

By: - March 6, 2023 4:05 am

The Gila National Forest after the Black Fire in February 2023. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)

A few minutes of discussions by the Senate Finance Committee on Friday led to legislation moving forward that would allocate more than $21 million to fire recovery efforts in southern New Mexico.

Two bills are aiming to get disaster relief funds on the ground to help those affected by the Black Fire in southwest New Mexico and the McBride Fire in Ruidoso. Both pieces of legislation passed the Senate Conservation Committee on Feb. 16 and are headed to the full floor now.

Black Fire legislation introduced that would send disaster funds to southern NM

More than $15 million is the difference between the bills. While this would support southern New Mexico, the Black Fire happened hundreds of miles west of the McBride Fire and included public infrastructure destruction that shows differences between the communities.

Lawmakers want to allocate around $18 million for relief efforts from the McBride Fire and $3 million Black Fire victims.

The Black Fire was the second-largest wildfire recorded in the state’s history, igniting more than 325,000 acres in the Gila National Forest. The McBride Fire lit just over 6,000 acres in Lincoln County, hitting the Village of Ruidoso.

The McBride blaze burned in a much more populated area than the Black Fire. Bill sponsor Sen. William Burt (R-Alamogordo) said the disaster wrecked hundreds of buildings, many homes and did significant damage to water and sewer systems.

He said there are four bridges that need to be replaced, one that’s a primary feeder to the high school.

“It’s a fair amount of money, but we need to move this so that the community can recover,” Burt said.

The legislation doesn’t currently have an emergency clause, a requirement to get money immediately to Ruidoso and Lincoln County if this legislation is signed by the governor. If it gets through the Roundhouse, it will go into effect on June 16, right in the middle of another fire season.

Southern acequia stewards try to understand ‘muddy’ disaster recovery process

The Black Fire bill does have an emergency clause that allows the money to get to the southwestern New Mexico communities quickly, according to the bill sponsor, Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill (D-Silver City). Correa Hemphill has said those dollars can help local counties, acequia stewards and private landowners recover.

People affected by the Black Fire have said they need money from the state to help fix acequia systems that move water to crops and livestock. That work has been delayed and needs to start now. Stewards have said financial aid can help with recovery work.

“They sustained a lot of damage to those ditches,” Correa Hemphill said. “And their farms, their ranches are dependent upon the ditches.”

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Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.