Briefs

FEMA begins accepting applications from Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire victims for $2.5 billion in aid

By: - November 14, 2022 11:17 am

A house that the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire burned down. Pictured on Monday, Sept. 12. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)

Victims of the biggest fire in New Mexico history can today begin their applications to get some of the $2.5 billion made available by an act of Congress in late September. 

The Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire grew out of control due to two errant prescribed burns ignited by the federal government that merged and then destroyed more than 1,000 structures and charred more than 530 square miles of northern New Mexico.

To compensate victims of the fire for their many losses, Congress passed the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act, which approves the spending of $2.5 billion for victims. 

It requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency to set up a new office that processes claims for damages. 

Today, a FEMA official announced that the agency is beginning to accept public comments on the rules it will use to determine who gets aid and how much. The agency will hold four public meetings between now and mid-January.

Northern NM fire victims say they need help now, even with $2.5 billion on the way

It also will begin accepting “Notice of Loss” forms from fire victims, which the official described as the first step in getting paid by the program. 

The Notice of Loss form, which is expected to be available on the FEMA website here today, is “​​a way to raise your hand and signal interest in starting the claims process,” said Angela Gladwell, a FEMA official and director of the newly created Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Claims Office, in an interview Monday with reporters. 

There is no cap on the amount of aid a person can receive, unlike the previous payments FEMA has made to victims of the fire. 

In fact, the $2.5 billion is intended to fully compensate fire victims for their financial losses, including lost homes and burned property but also damages like lost business revenue, new flood insurance premiums, payments for mental health care and more. 

Gladwell said Monday that she hopes the agency will begin issuing the first checks to fire survivors “sometime in early 2023.” 

“One thing is important to emphasize,” she said. “It will take some time to build out our operation.”

At a recent town hall meeting with fire survivors, many residents said they were grateful for the prospect of being made whole through a program like the one Congress passed. But they were also in urgent need of immediate aid, with winter looming and many still looking for housing or ways to rebuild. 

After the act was passed in late September, FEMA had 45 days to issue draft rules for the new program, which is much quicker than the agency typically has to build a whole new office, Gladwell said. The program is modeled after the Cerro Grande Fire Assistance Act in 2000. That’s the last time an escaped federal government prescribed burn caused a devastating wildfire. That one was in Los Alamos. 

Gladwell urged members of the public to weigh in on the new rules, which can be found here, because she said the agency will consider changing them in line with the needs of victims of this particular fire. 

“We will make any adjustments we need to,” she said, “based on the comments we get on the rules.”

Here’s where to submit a Notice of Loss form:

Email: [email protected]

Mail: FEMA Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Claims Office

P.O. Box 1329

Santa Fe, NM 87504

For more information, visit https://www.fema.gov/disaster/current/hermits-peak

Four public meetings: 

November 17

5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

 MT at Old Memorial Middle School, 947 Legion Drive, Las Vegas, NM 87701 

December 1

5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. 

MT at the Mora High School, 10 Ranger Road, Mora, NM 87732

December 15 

from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. 

MT at Old Memorial Middle School, 947 Legion Drive, Las Vegas, NM 87701

January 5

from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. 

MT at the Mora High School, 10 Ranger Road, Mora, NM 87732

FEMA’s draft rules for Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon claims can be found here.

Public comments can be made here.

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Patrick Lohmann
Patrick Lohmann

Patrick Lohmann has been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he's worked at UNM's Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard. Along the way, he's won several state and national awards for his reporting, including for an exposé on a cult-like Alcoholics Anonymous group and a feature on an Upstate New York militia member who died of COVID-19. He's thrilled to be back home in New Mexico, where he works to tell stories that resonate and make an impact.

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