News

Gov Warns of Weekend Wildfire “Serious Situation”

FEMA registration begins for five counties as weather forecast calls for 100 hours of extreme wind

News Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, center, appeared with, from left, State Forester Laura McCarthy, a sign language interpreter, Acting Cabinet Secretary for DHSEM Diego Arencon and FEMA Coordinator Sandy Eslinger on Friday May 6.

Federal disaster teams designated to help New Mexicans recover from wildfire damage are starting work in Glorieta and Ruidoso even as local emergency managers issue dire warnings for extreme weather this weekend that’s expected to make firefighting difficult.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and other officials gave a news update Friday morning, during which the governor both outlined plans for assistance and emphasized the foreboding weather report, especially for the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fires burning near Las Vegas.

“The projected data is about 11 am tomorrow, for 100 straight hours, we will have high temperatures and extreme winds. This is the worst possible set of conditions for any fire. I repeat: It’s the worst possible set of conditions for this fire,” Lujan Grisham said.

She encouraged people who have remained in mandatory evacuation areas to reconsider and leave immediately.

“This is a critical phase of this fire and it means extreme risk. I trust the men and women on the ground and I trust the federal resources on the ground, but I recognize that we have a serious situation,” the governor said.

That fire, which is the largest burning in the nation and as of presstime was measured at 168,009 acres and 20% containment, is one of six current wildfires in New Mexico that have lead to the evacuation of more than 16,000 homes.

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Also near Santa Fe, the Cerro Pelado Fire is burning just a few miles from Jemez Springs, at 32,121 acres and 13% contained, and the Cooks Peak Fire is 97% contained with 59,359 acres burned.

Near Ruidoso, the McBride Fire is nearly contained but it burned 200 homes and 6,159 acres. The Nogal Canyon Fire is reportedly 412 acres.

In southwestern New Mexico, the Bear Trap Fire in the Magdalena Ranger District has burned 3,237 acres and was 0% contained as of Friday morning, and the Water Fire is less than 1,000 acres.

The National Weather Service in Albuquerque has issued a warning of extreme fire conditions across the state, noting “a relentless period of strong winds and dangerous fire weather will exacerbate the fire threat. Widespread critical to extreme fire weather is likely on Saturday and Sunday, and possibly through Wednesday.”

Lujan Grisham said she has instructed state emergency managers to apply for “every categorical benefit” of federal assistance that might be available. Since the Hermits Peak blaze began as a prescribed burn lit by US Forest Service workers, “the US government is responsible in large part for this fire. Several New Mexicans, myself included, have been calling the White House,” she said.

President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration for Colfax, Lincoln, Mora, San Miguel and Valencia counties May 4, which Lujan Grisham reiterated “does not attack the fire but now focuses on the men and women and families who have been negatively impacted and victimized by this fire, everything from losing their property, which is horrific, to not being able to go work, to families not being able to be in school.”

Two teams of disaster assistance personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have arrived in the state to begin helping residents register for and receive assistance. In response to questions about residents reporting difficulty or denial of help, FEMA Coordinator Sandy Eslinger advised applicants to keep trying.

The most important first step is to register with www.disasterassistance.gov. Eslinger noted workers will visit shelter locations to assist with registration beginning Friday. For phone registration, call 1-800-621-3362.

FEMA assistance, she said, is determined on a case-by-case basis and noted federal law does not allow the duplication of benefits. Applicants are asked whether they have insurance; answering “yes” does not prohibit them from getting additional help. The programs were just “turned on” yesterday, Eslinger said.

“You might even hear the word ‘ineligible’ but that is because there is going to be another step required on the individual’s part, that means you have to upload your insurance information,” she said, adding later, “Don’t give up. The reason we are putting people on the ground is to help people get registered if they are having trouble with the process.”

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