According to federal emergency administrators, more victims of a devastating wildfire initiated by the U.S. Forest Service in northern New Mexico last year are receiving compensation, with payments to landowners totaling more than $14 million by the beginning of next week.
The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire resulted in the appropriation of nearly $4 billion by Congress at the end of the previous year. Officials have acknowledged that the rehabilitation process will be protracted and challenging, but a number of residents and legislators are impatient with the pace.
Angela Gladwell, the director of the claims office, stated that more than 1,600 notices of loss have been lodged thus far and that her office is presently processing claims worth approximately $50 million. She estimated that it would take her office five to six years to assure that “everyone receives every dollar that is owed to them.”
The claims office has also recently begun collaborating with the National Flood Insurance Program to provide eligible claimants with five years of flood insurance coverage, with the claims office paying the premiums. Post-fire inundation, particularly in the spring when the snow evaporates, has been a major concern for residents. Now, this concern also includes the summer monsoon season.
The claims office has received approximately 350 requests for flood insurance, and many have been approved.
Numerous errors by forest managers caused prescribed fires to erupt into the largest conflagration in New Mexico’s recorded history last spring. The fire forced the evacuation of thousands of residents from villages in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range as it consumed more than 1,373 square kilometers (530 square miles) of the Rocky Mountain foothills.
Devastating Fire Prompts Forest Service to Reevaluate Policies with Long-Term Environmental Impact
The fire destroyed homes and livelihoods, compelling the Forest Service to reevaluate its prescribed fire policies prior to resuming operations in the autumn of 2017. According to experts, the environmental effects will transcend generations.
Recently, the U.S. Forest Service acknowledged that a second fire in northern New Mexico in 2022 that burnt near Los Alamos was the result of prescribed fire operations.
New Mexico Senator Ben Ray Luján, a Democrat, announced on Friday that he intends to introduce legislation that would expand the claims process to include losses from this fire.
Officials from the federal government stated that they were aware of these plans and were evaluating what additional resources might be required if such legislation were to pass. In addition, they acknowledged that the compensation program for the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire required considerable time to devise.
This was the greatest conflagration in New Mexico’s history. It has extremely complex categories of losses,” Gladwell said, adding that the program must be adaptable so that victims of wildfires have options.