Morning Word

Santa Fe, Carson National Forests Close Tomorrow

FEMA “on the ground” for NM fire victims

FEMA on the ground

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Deanne Criswell and other officials yesterday reviewed the work underway to help people impacted by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire. Criswell said FEMA has 350 employees “on the ground” in the state to assist with those efforts, enabled by the presidential disaster declaration for residents in Colfax, Lincoln, Mora, San Miguel and Valencia counties. Thus far, 446 households had been approved for more than $612,000 and more than 2,000 people have registered for assistance. Both Lujan Grisham and Criswell emphasized the fire will require a long recovery. During a news conference, the governor guesstimated 1,000 to 1,500 structures have been destroyed; the governor’s office subsequently told SFR 364 structures have been officially confirmed as destroyed. The Santa Fe National Forest reported yesterday it has established a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team to begin the assessment of national forest lands impacted by the fire, and will start with the cooler areas of the fire. As of last night, the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire had reached 299,565 acres and was 26% contained. In better news, the Cerro Pelado Fire is 71% contained at 45,605 acres, and Los Alamos County and Los Alamos National Laboratory have returned to the “ready” phase of ready/set/go. In her remarks yesterday, the governor also noted FEMA’s presence in the state puts New Mexico “in the best possible position where we’re all competing for resources during fire season in the United States to make sure that we’re also adequately supported to fight fires around the state through fire season.” Fire season, she added, doesn’t officially start until June 23.

Santa Fe, Carson forests close to the public

As for fire season—also known as summer—as of May 19 (tomorrow), the Santa Fe National Forest will close for all recreation. According to a news release, the “closure order prohibits public access across the entire 1.6-million-acre forest due to active wildfires and extreme fire danger. The closure order will remain in effect until Dec. 31, 2022, unless it is rescinded earlier.” The Carson National Forest closes on the same day, and Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands are also implementing partial closures. Following the forest closure announcements, US Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, released a statement on social media appearing to push back on the decision: “We absolutely need to take precautions to prevent wildfires,” he wrote, “but blanket closures of our public lands are not the answer. We need a nuanced approach that distinguishes between hiking on a trail versus lighting a campfire. We can balance safety & access with a little common sense.” In last night’s briefing on Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon, Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said the forest closure means “don’t go into the forest,” and said deputies, under contract with the Forest Service, will be “patrolling and actively running people off or writing citations if we have to. We don’t want to do that. We anticipate we will have cooperation because, Taos County, I know you appreciate the drought conditions and what we are going through here.”

Archdiocese announces $121.5 million settlement

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe and the representatives for survivors of clergy sex abuse yesterday announced a $121.5 million settlement trust that will be distributed to approximately 375 survivors. According to a news release, in addition to the monetary settlement, the Official Creditors Committee “negotiated for an unprecedented non-monetary agreement” with the Archdiocese “to create a public archive of documents regarding the history of the sexual abuse claims against the Archdiocese.” In a statement, attorney Brad Hall, whose team has filed claims for more than 200 victims, said: “Our hearts go out to all childhood victims of Catholic clergy abuse. No amount of money will make it all go away for these survivors, but we hope that our decade of commitment to trying to help survivors obtain some small measure of accountability and closure, has done so, and also has made current children safer when involved in institutions of trust.” OCC Chairman Charles Paez acknowledged the “tenacity and courage” of the survivors. “The bankruptcy process has been a lengthy one and, at the end of the day, survivors will receive an unheard of transparency into the history of the Archdiocese’s sexual abuse claims and fair compensation,” he said in a statement. Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester, in a statement yesterday announcing the settlement, said: “The Church takes very seriously its responsibility to see the survivors of sexual abuse are justly compensated for the suffering they have endured. It is our hope that this settlement is the next step in the healing process of those who have been harmed.” If the settlement terms are agreed upon, they will be incorporated into the next phase of the Archdiocese’s Chapter 11 reorganization plan.

Jury finds Montoya guilty

Following a two-week trial, a Santa Fe County jury yesterday found Estevan Montoya guilty of first-degree murder when he shot and killed local basketball standout Fedonta “JB” White at a high school party in August of 2020. The jury convicted Montoya, who was 16 at the time of the shooting and charged as an adult, on all four charges: first-degree murder; tampering with evidence; unlawful carrying of a handgun by a person under age 19; and negligent use of a deadly weapon. “I’m very, very grateful for, just finally, justice and just very happy that the truth came out,” Jude Voss, White’s grandmother who raised him, said following the verdict. “I knew that my son wasn’t an aggressive, mean person. I had to live the last year and a half just worried that we weren’t going to get justice.” Montoya is facing up to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 30 years. State District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington has not yet set a sentencing date. Read SFR’s daily coverage of the trial here.

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported May 17:

New cases: 373; 527,534 total cases

Deaths: 16; At last count, Santa Fe County had 289 total deaths; there have been 7,638 total fatalities statewide. Hospitalizations: 78; Patients on ventilators: 10

Resources: Vaccine registrationBooster registration Free at-home rapid antigen testsSelf-report a positive COVID-19 test result to the health department; COVID-19 treatment info: oral treatments Paxlovid (age 12+) and Molnupiravir (age 18+); and monoclonal antibody treatments. Toolkit for immunocompromised individuals. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.

Listen up

If you haven’t been listening to the Encounter Culture podcast, you’re missing out. Produced by the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, the show explores the creative and cultural landscape of New Mexico from myriad angles and, if you jump in now, you can binge through the first season. Season two kicked off recently, with the most recent episode featuring a discussion between host Charlotte Jusinski, editor of El Palacio magazine, and Heather Reed, executive director of the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces.

NM’s shifting reproductive health care landscape

The online British newspaper The Independent takes the measure of New Mexico’s “battle to keep up with surging abortion demand” in the wake of Texas’ stringent abortion restrictions, while also addressing existing inequities here. Eve Espey, a professor at the University of New Mexico and founder of its center for reproductive health, says her clinic “saw an immediate impact. For a short period of time things leveled off a bit, and it is now just absolutely crazy. We’ve never seen volume in the city like we’ve seen since Texas.” Kristina Tocce, vice president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, says Planned Parenthood’s clinics in both New Mexico and Colorado have experienced comparable surges. The story also explores the existing inequities in New Mexico’s reproductive health care landscape and how that could increase if more people begin traveling to the state in a post-Roe world. “It’s a field day for anti-abortion activists, and that’s only going to get worse,” Espey said. “As other states shut down abortion care, those activists are going to need somewhere to go to continue their work. I think the haven states are very likely to wind up being those places.”

Fire and water

Robert Frost wasn’t sure which apocalyptic scenario seemed more likely in his poem “Fire and Ice.” Here in New Mexico, wildfire seems a more immediate cause for concern, but then water (pre-ice) or lack thereof is an enduring concern (and, obviously, related to fire...this set-up is proving more work than we anticipated). To the point! This week, residents can delve into both fire and water in a more prosaic manner. At 5:30 pm this evening, Santa Fe County will present a free Wildfire Prevention and Preparedness Town Hall, both in real life at the Pojoaque Fire Station 1 and streaming on the county’s YouTube page. Then, later this week, the virtual Next Generation Water Summit begins (May 19-21). Free for Santa Fe residents, the conference’s theme is “Growth in a Time of Drought,” with live and on-demand panels featuring a slew of local and national speakers. The City of Santa Fe also recently held a fire preparation meeting, and launched a wildfire information page. The Santa Fe Fire Department returned from a deployment on the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire earlier this week.

Facing the heat

Looks like Santa Fe heads back into fire weather on Friday and Saturday, but for today, the National Weather Service forecasts sunny skies with a high near 85 degrees and northeast wind 5 to 15 mph becoming southwest in the morning. Fingers crossed, Saturday should be a little cooler.

Thanks for reading! Upon learning the Santa Fe National Forest would be closed all summer and New Mexico is one of the top states facing destruction from wildfire in the next 30 years, The Word decided to read this story on the world’s nicest swimming spots and imagine she was sipping this cocktail.

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