Biden extends feds’ full wildfire coverage into November

By: - August 24, 2022 5:17 pm

The burn scar of the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon fire pictured Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Photo by Patrick Lohmann / Source New Mexico)

After a presidential declaration expired earlier this month leaving the state to cover a chunk of the costs from the wildfire in northern New Mexico, the White House announced Wednesday that the feds will pay that bill and all expenses into November.

President Biden came to New Mexico this summer and said the federal government would pick up the whole tab for the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon wildfire.

The U.S. Forest Service failed to put out all of the embers from one prescribed burn and lost control of another, starting the largest wildfire in the state’s history. Since a federal agency is responsible for the damage, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said, it should be the federal government that foots the bill. 

Biden’s initial disaster declaration expired on Aug. 4, and the state became responsible for one-quarter of the costs. But the Governor’s Office said the president’s new order is retroactive, meaning the federal government will cover 100% of expenses for debris removal, direct federal assistance and emergency protective measures — even during that gap the last couple of weeks. The new declaration expires Nov. 4.

As of Sunday, the northern New Mexico wildfire still burned in spots, though officials announced it’s fully contained. It scorched 341,735 acres.

Earlier this month, Lujan Grisham called for the declaration’s sunset date to be pushed out, and she requested more money for housing assistance and dealing with flash floods. She also sought to include Sandoval and Los Alamos Counties in the list of impacted areas. All of those asks became part of the president’s amendment, according to the Governor’s Office. 

Biden’s initial 90-day presidential declaration was meant to serve as a stopgap measure until Congress could pass a bill to help people who lost homes and livelihoods, and who remain in peril in the area because of flash floods and debris. But that hasn’t happened yet, and Congress has been in recess throughout August.

More than two decades ago, a bill to fully compensate fire victims in Los Alamos County was passed quickly during the Cerro Grande fire — also lit by the Forest Service. 


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Marisa Demarco
Marisa Demarco

Marisa Demarco is an Albuquerque-based journalist and lifelong New Mexican whose work has won national and regional awards. She's spent almost two decades as a reporter, producer and newsroom leader, co-founding the New Mexico Compass, and editing and writing for the Weekly Alibi, the Albuquerque Tribune and UNM's Daily Lobo. She began a career in radio full-time at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health and criminal legal reform for much of the last seven years. During the pandemic, she was also the executive producer for “Your NM Gov” and “No More Normal,” shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice.