Editorial: Make the NM ravaged by fire

The federal response to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s request for disaster relief following the massive fire that engulfed northern New Mexico can only be described as adequate.

President Joe Biden pledged last week that New Mexicans would have the full support of the federal government as it recovers and rebuilds from historic wildfires. But unless “full support” means the state and affected residents are whole, the executive branch will not fulfill its obligation.

Investigations into the cause of the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire are ongoing. The Forest Service has already taken responsibility for the Hermits Peak Fire, which began with a prescribed burn in early April. A second investigation will try to determine if the embers at Hermits Peak started the Calf Canyon fire. Last week the combined fire exceeded 300,000 acres. Aided by gusty winds, record heat and dry forests, the blaze has eaten away at northeast communities for the past month, becoming the largest wildfire in state history. Lujan Grisham said the flames probably destroyed up to 1,500 structures and forced up to 18,000 people to flee.

The governor and other NM elected officials are correct in suggesting that the federal government should foot the bill for the costs of fighting fires, rebuilding communities and restoring forests. Even if the federal authorities intervene, the fire took a heavy toll on the economy.

Justified closures

Continued fire and drought conditions have led to the temporary closure of Santa Fe, Carson, and parts of the Cibola National Forests. They might have been closed anyway, but the Canyon Calf/Hermits Peak fire sealed their fate, putting the kibosh on New Mexico’s fledgling outdoor recreation industry. More cool getaways in mountain forests, affecting small businesses that cater to outdoor recreation enthusiasts in the form of accommodation, bars, restaurants, and clothing and equipment stores. We understand that all it takes is one reckless spark, but it’s going to be a long, hot summer.

Businesses that depend on hikers, cyclists, anglers, and hunters and wildlife viewers know the value of public lands. Several told the Journal they were OK with the closures because it safeguarded their livelihoods.

Patrick Johnson, owner of Rumor Brewing Co. in Cedar Crest, said while a significant portion of his customers are typically hikers of nearby trails, he fully supports the closures, even if it comes at the expense of fewer of customers.

He said he saw it as a compromise if it meant the Cibola National Forest could be spared the kinds of devastating wildfires currently raging in the state.

But it’s not just national forests that are subject to closure. State-owned public lands and county open spaces are also affected. Manzano Mountains State Park is closed until further notice, and Santa Fe County has closed the open areas of Arroyo del la Piedra, Little Tesuque Creek, Rio en Medio, and Talaya Hill.

Rise in losses

But the lack of access to recreation is nothing compared to the loss of a home and the natural beauty that surrounds it.

Last week, New Mexico’s four Democrats in Congress introduced the Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act to provide additional compensation to New Mexico residents and business owners affected by the Hermits Peak fire. The bill would require the Federal Emergency Management Agency to design and administer a comprehensive compensation program for those who suffered personal injury, property loss, business and financial loss resulting from the Hermits Peak fire. .

Regardless of the bill’s chances of passing, these lawmakers are absolutely right to make the case. Lujan Grisham will have the opportunity to pressure Biden further on the issue. In a recent call with the president, she invited Biden to travel to New Mexico to see first-hand the impact of the wildfires and meet with affected New Mexicans, which the president said he intends. to do.

In his initial application for a federal disaster declaration, Lujan Grisham requested the full range of assistance from FEMA in Category B public assistance and Category A, debris removal. But only partial Category B approval was granted (mass care accommodation and direct federal aid), while Category A was not granted at all, according to the governor’s website.

Later, she asked the federal authorities to assume responsibility for 100% of the costs associated with the response instead of the typical 75%/25% split.

It takes us all

While these issues are resolved, we renew calls for local governments to ban fireworks before the 4th of July holiday, and for vendors to imitate their counterparts who depend on the outdoor industry and place public safety before profit. The whole state is a powder keg. It is the height of recklessness to allow fireworks when public lands are closed as a precaution against forest fires. State lawmakers should work on a way to enact a statewide ban instead of leaving decisions to a patchwork of local governments.

If New Mexico officials want to hold the federal government accountable for the fires, then they must keep their word and do everything in their power to limit them as well. That goes for us everyday New Mexicans. If you see someone doing something that could start a fire in the bosque, on public land or in an open space, say something.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned because it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than that of the editors.

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