After starting a fire in New Mexico, the United States asks the victims to pay

By Andrew Hay

TIERRAMOUNTEDNM – After the U.S. government ignited the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history in April, it’s asking victims to share recovery costs on private land, jeopardizing relief efforts, according to residents and state officials.

The fire was started by US Forest Service (USFS) prescribed burns to reduce the risk of forest fires. The burns spiral out of control after a series of missteps set fire to 432 residences and more than 530 square miles (1,373 square km) of mostly private forest and grassland, much of it owned by members of Indo herding communities -secular Hispanic.

“Today I am announcing that the federal government is covering 100% of the costs,” President Joe Biden said during a visit to New Mexico in June. Biden was announcing a disaster declaration that covered debris removal and emergency protective measures.

But federal cost-sharing laws on other federal relief programs limit Biden’s authority and reveal holes in the government’s safety net intended to help survivors and restore landscapes.

It’s a system that more and more Americans will turn to as extreme fires and flooding become the climate change norm.

“I DIDN‘T CAUSETHISDAMNFIRE

Biden’s measure was intended to fill FEMA relief and a congressional bill that could pass in the fall to provide 100% federal compensation for losses caused by the so-called Hermit’s Peak Calf Canyon fire.

Daniel Encinias was among the survivors who met with Biden and was briefed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials, he would get quick support at little or no cost.

He, his wife Lori, three teenagers, four dogs and eight cats live in a camping trailer next to the ashes of their home in Tierra Monte, 35 miles northeast of Santa Fe.

Encinias filed an application with the USDANatural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/nm/newsroom/releases/?cid=NRCSERD1923027 to repair his well, but was told to share 25% of the costs based on a federal law that could not be waived because it fell outside Biden’s declaration.

Encinias said he was informed by NRCS officials, his candidacy would be reviewed in September and turnaround work would begin six to 12 months later if accepted.

So, like many fire survivors in this low-income area who lack insurance, the rancher and retired electrician did the work himself.

“Why the hell am I going to pay anything when I didn’t start that damn fire?” said Encinias, 55, as he fed his cattle hay he was forced to buy after his baler was set on fire.

An official for the NRCS‘ local office in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where Encinias requested support to raise questions with the national office. Officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

UNCERTAINCHRONOLOGYFORRECOVERYRELIEF

Many families affected by the fire cannot afford to share at least 25% of the costs on the USDAEmergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP) https://www.fsa.usda.gov/Assets/USDAFSA-Public/usdafiles/FactSheets/emergency_forest_restoration_program-fact_sheet.pdfwhich offers relief such as stabilization of burned areas prone to flash flooding, according to Laura McCarthy, New Mexico State Forester. Residents sometimes own large tracts of land inherited from the Spanish-Mexican land grants of the 1800s while holding blue-collar jobs.

“They’re really struggling,” McCarthy said.

That left residents, state officials, and federal agencies counting on cost-sharing being scrapped and the bill being passed by Congress.

Democratic Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez sponsored the legislation that passed the House and will likely need help from Republicans in the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Léger Fernandez is in talks with the USDA and the White House on removing cost shares and helped negotiate a waiver with the NRCS for flood mitigation works on private land.

“The federal government is burning down your house, so they are responsible in my mind to pay 100% of the cost of rebuilding,” Léger Fernandez said.

Assistance cannot access the 45 mile long disaster area https://www.yahoo.com/video/mountains-gone-grief-sacred-mexico-004919599.html fast enough.

The fire burned about 170 acres (68.8 hectares) of rancher Kenny Zamora’s forest. His pastures in El Turquillo are covered in up to 2 feet of mud after monsoon rains triggered debris flows on slopes that no longer absorb water. The torrents knocked down fences twice.

A retired employee of USDAthe Zamora rural development agency requested assistance from the USDA‘s Farms Service Agency (FSA) to feed his livestock.

The FSA office in Las Vegas told him he was not eligible. USDA the officials told him that EFRP for the region has not yet been funded. He pays for the recovery work himself.

“If you don’t have insurance, you’re pretty much on your own,” said Zamora, 59, who like Encinias plans to join a massive civil case that could be filed against the USFS.

The FSA The Las Vegas office directed questions to state executive director Jonas Moya, who did not respond to a request for comment. The FSAThe national office did not respond to requests for comment.

Climate change is making wildfires worse because ecosystems no longer have natural protections such as cooler nights to slow their spread. Destroyed landscapes are also less able to handle other disasters, such as floods https://www.fema.gov/sites/default/files/documents/fema_flood-after-fire_factsheet_nov20.pdf.

Two women and a man died https://www.reuters.com/article/new-mexico-wildfire-idAFL1N2Z400C after a flash flood swept through the burn scar northeast of Las Vegas on July 21.

At Tierra Monte, ash flows knocked rocks under Encinias’ trailer and drowned livestock.

FEMA has so far awarded $4.2 million to 1,164 fire survivors, representing an average payout of $3,600. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said Thursday FEMA granted his request to extend Biden’s statement to residents who suffered damage from flooding and debris flows in wildfire burn scars.

For now, Encinias’ family is making do with a maximum payout of $37,000 from FEMA for the loss of their 5 bedroom home. They also lost eight acres of forest, farm machinery and cars.

“Hopefully finally something works where it helps people,” Encinias said.


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