President Joe Biden said the government will cover “100 percent” of the recovery costs in response to the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history, also the largest fire in the United States so far this year.
The Calf Canyon Fire and the Hermits Peak Fire were originally “prescribed burns,” conducted as part of the U.S. Forest Service’s forest management measures. The burns escaped containment lines and merged into one and became the largest wildfire in state history in mid-May. It has now burned over 300,000 acres.
The prescribed burn that caused the Calf Canyon fire was concluded on Jan. 29, but it later reignited, and escaped containment lines on April 19. On April 23, amid strong winds that exacerbated the fire spread, it merged with the Hermits Peak Fire, which was also a prescribed burn that escaped containment lines on April 6.
“We have a responsibility as a government to deal with the communities who are put in such jeopardy,” Biden said in Santa Fe, New Mexico, at the state’s Regional Training Installation Facility. “Today I’m announcing the federal government is covering 100 percent of the cost of debris removal and emergency protective measures for the next critical months.”
“We have a responsibility to help this state recover, to help the families who have been here for centuries, and the beautiful northern New Mexico villages who can’t go home and whose livelihoods have been fundamentally changed,” he added.
The White House later announced that Biden authorized an increase in percentage of federal funding to remove debris and for other emergency protective measures from 75 percent to 100 percent, “for the first 90 days of the incident period.” Biden had initially announced the federal government would cover 75 percent of total eligible costs in a disaster declaration for New Mexico on May 4.
“The 90-day period is designed to serve as a bridge between emergency operations and the potential passage of the pending Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act legislation that would require FEMA to establish a claims office to enable individuals to apply for a broader range of assistance than what is available under the Stafford Act,” the announcement reads.
“This additional support will help ensure that New Mexico has no financial limitations related to immediate lifesaving and life sustaining operations related to the ongoing wildfires, including urgent debris removal.”
Biden said that the U.S. Forest Service “do a pretty damn good job” in carrying out some 4,500 prescribed burns each year, of which “99.8 percent go as planned,” but that “this time, tragically, it did not.”
“And that’s why the Forest Service has just put a complete pause on prescribed burns in our—in the Forest Service lands,” Biden continued. “And it’s conducting an intensive 90-day review, which will make public all the detail of that review. And this needs to happen.”