UNITED STATES NEWS

Compensation for New Mexico wildfire victims tops $14 million and is climbing

Aug 4, 2023, 3:41 PM | Updated: 4:06 pm

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — More victims of a devastating wildfire sparked last year by the U.S. Forest Service in northern New Mexico are getting compensated, with payouts to landowners totaling more than $14 million as of early next week, federal emergency managers said.

Congress set aside nearly $4 billion at the end of last year to pay claims resulting from the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire. Officials have acknowledged that the recovery process would be long and challenging, but many residents and some lawmakers have been frustrated with the pace.

Angela Gladwell, the director of the claims office, said more than 1,600 notices of loss have been filed so far and that her office has around $50 million worth of claims that are currently being processed. She estimated her office would be operational for the next five to six years to ensure that “everyone gets every penny that they are due.”

“We’re excited because this funding will begin to provide some much needed relief to our claimants who have been patiently waiting for an opportunity to start recovering,” Gladwell told The Associated Press.

The claims office also recently began working with the National Flood Insurance Program so that eligible claimants can receive five years of flood insurance protection, with premiums paid by the claims office. One of the big concerns for residents has been post-fire flooding, particularly in the spring as snow melts. Now that concern also extends to the summer rainy season.

The claims office has had about 350 request for flood policies, and many already have been approved.

Numerous missteps by forest managers resulted in prescribed fires erupting last spring into what became the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history. The blaze forced the evacuation of thousands of residents from villages throughout the Sangre de Cristo mountain range as it burned through more than 530 square miles (1,373 square kilometers) of the Rocky Mountain foothills.

The fire destroyed homes and livelihoods — and forced the Forest Service to review its prescribed fire polices before resuming operations last fall. Experts have said the environmental consequences will span generations.

The U.S. Forest Service also recently acknowledged that another 2022 fire in northern New Mexico that burned near Los Alamos was caused by prescribed fire operations.

Democratic Sen. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico said Friday that he plans to introduce legislation that would expand the claims process to cover losses from that blaze.

Federal officials said they were aware of those plans and were reviewing what additional resources might be needed if such legislation were to pass. They also acknowledged that it has taken time to build the compensation program to address losses from the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire.

“This was the largest fire in the state of New Mexico. It has types of losses that are extraordinarily complex,” Gladwell said, adding that the program needed to be flexible so wildfire victims would have options.

The claims office has a staff of nearly 90 people, but more are needed as more claims are expected to come in, Gladwell said.

Meanwhile, members of Congress have been pressuring the Forest Service to do more to address a wildfire crisis that they say will destroy more landscapes, communities and livelihoods as long-term drought persists around the West. The Biden administration says it has been trying to turn the tide through a multibillion-dollar cleanup of forests choked with dead trees and undergrowth.

United States News

Associated Press

Boaters find $1 million of cocaine floating off Florida Keys

MIAMI (AP) — Recreational boaters found $1 million worth of cocaine floating in the ocean off the Florida Keys. Samuel Briggs II, the acting chief patrol agent of the U.S. Border Patrol, wrote about the find in a social media post on X. Briggs posted video Monday night showing the wrapped packages of cocaine being […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Police credit New Yorkers for suspect’s arrest in the rape of a 13-year-old girl

NEW YORK (AP) — Residents of a New York City neighborhood were praised for their role in the arrest of an Ecuadorian accused of raping a 13-year-old girl, a crime that the city’s police commissioner said “shocked our entire city.” Christian Geovanny Inga-Landi, 25, was arrested early Tuesday outside a deli in Corona, Queens. He […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

The Ten Commandments must be displayed in Louisiana classrooms under requirement signed into law

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana has become the first state to require that the Ten Commandments be displayed in every public school classroom under a bill signed into law by Republican Gov. Jeff Landry on Wednesday. The GOP-drafted legislation mandates that a poster-sized display of the Ten Commandments in “large, easily readable font” be […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

Survivors of New Hampshire motorcycle crash that killed 7 urge a judge to keep trucker off the road

Relatives and friends of seven motorcyclists who died in a 2019 crash urged New Hampshire officials Wednesday not to allow the trucker back on the state’s roadways. A jury in 2022 found Volodymyr Zhukovskyy not guilty of multiple manslaughter and negligent homicide counts stemming from the June 21, 2019, collision in Randolph that killed seven […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

New York requiring paid break time for moms who need to pump breast milk at work, under new law

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York moms returning to work after giving birth will now get paid break time when they need to pump breast milk at their jobs, under a new law that took effect Wednesday. Gov. Kathy Hochul said the law requires employers in the state to provide a half hour of paid […]

7 hours ago

Associated Press

Cooler temps and rain could help corral blazes that forced thousands to flee New Mexico village

ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) — Air tankers dropped water and red retardant on Wednesday on a pair of growing fires in mountainous New Mexico that killed at least one person, damaged more than 1,400 structures, forced thousands to flee a tourist locale and may now threaten hundreds of firefighters amid high wind risks. Strong wind on […]

18 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinic visits boost student training & community health

Going to a Midwestern University Clinic can help make you feel good in more ways than one.

...

Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

Compensation for New Mexico wildfire victims tops $14 million and is climbing