Morning Word

Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Managers Report Progress, Brace for Return of Winds

Forrest Fenn’s art heads to auction

Fire managers brace for return of red flag weather

Following several days of better weather, managers on the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire cautioned during last night’s update the state heads back into red flag weather today and tomorrow. Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team Commander Carl Schwope, who is overseeing the fire’s south zone, reported “crews made a lot of good progress,” over the past six days, “but the next couple of days are going to be a big challenge…We don’t think any evacuations need to change; we think everything is right where it’s at…but keep paying attention. If we can make it through the next couple of days, things are going to be looking really good but it’s going to be definitely a couple of challenging days. We know the fire’s going to move.” Regarding evacuations, San Miguel County yesterday downgraded Rociada from go to set and announced power had been restored there. Bull Canyon, Cow Creek, along with upper and lower Colonias remain in go status. As of this morning, the fire measured 303,341 acres and had 34% containment. The Cerro Pelado Fire in the Jemez Mountains is now 74% contained at 45,605 acres; a new incident management team, the Rocky Mountain Black Team, takes over that fire today. The Santa Fe, Carson and portions of the Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands enact closures today, but changed a previous termination date at the end of the year to July 18, closer to the potential monsoon season, at which point the closures will be re-evaluated. Several state parks also close today due to fire danger, including Santa Fe’s Hyde Memorial.Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office yesterday relayed the contents of a discussion the governor had with President Joe Biden on Tuesday in which she “underscored the impacts of the fires on New Mexico communities and the need for ongoing partnership with the federal government as New Mexico recovers and rebuilds from some of the most devastating wildfires on record in the state.” According to the governor’s office, Lujan Grisham also invited the president to visit New Mexico and see “firsthand the impact of the wildfires and meet with affected New Mexicans, which the President said he intends to do.”

NM tax rebates underway

More than 550,000 New Mexico taxpayers will soon be receiving at least $250 as a result of rebates approved in a special legislative session earlier this spring. Taxpayers with direct deposit are scheduled to receive those rebates in the next day; paper checks for another 200,000 taxpayers will begin going out in the following days and continue over the next few weeks. Taxpayers who file individual returns will receive another $250 rebate in August; Joint filers will receive $500 rebates beginning this week and another $500 in August. New Mexicans who don’t file state income taxes because of their income levels can apply apply for one-time relief payments of either $500 or $1,000 depending on family size at the Human Services Department website until May 31, 2022, or as long as funding allows. New Mexicans who didn’t file a 2021 return and aren’t eligible for non-filer relief payment have until May 31, 2023, to file and receive a rebate. Find more info on the relief payments and rebates here. For residents displaced by wildfire who are receiving paper checks, mail is being sent to the Las Vegas Post Office for Chacon, Guadalupita and Rociada residents. Residents from these areas can either pick up their mail in person at the Las Vegas Post Office; call 1-800-ASK-USPS to have their mail forwarded to a different address; or call the post office in Las Vegas at (505) 425-9387 and request to have their mail delivered once a week to the Taos Post Office. Residents living in any other evacuated area should contact their local post office to receive their mail.

City seeks redistricting input

The City of Santa Fe’s Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission is seeking feedback on revised electoral maps in advance of the 2023 Municipal Election and will be holding public meetings starting next week and into June: May 24 at the Main Library; June 14 at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center and June 28 at the Southside Library—all meetings begin at 5:30 pm. Research and Polling Inc. analyzed census information and other demographic data for the city, resulting in five new district map options. View those here. “We are encouraging everyone to look at the maps and concepts, provide us feedback, and be involved in this process,” Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission Chairwoman Lilliemae Ortiz said in a statement. “Fair and accurate districts are a key element of our election system, and it is important for our residents to be engaged as we move forward.”

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported May 18:

New cases: 611; 528,146 total cases

Deaths: 12; At last count, Santa Fe County had 289 total deaths; there have been 7,650 total fatalities statewide. Hospitalizations: 85; Patients on ventilators: 15

Case rates: According to DOH’s most recent report on COVID-19 geographic trends, for the seven-day period of May 9 through May 15, De Baca County had the highest case rate per 100,000 population: 62.1, followed by Rio Arriba County with 38.4 and Santa Fe County with 34.3.In response to questions from SFR earlier this week regarding a 45% increase in cases in the most recent weekend figures compared with the prior week, DOH Communications Director Jodi McGinnis Porter, via email, writes: “New Mexico, like the rest of the country, is experiencing an increase of COVID-19 cases…Hospitalizations and deaths in New Mexico remain stable at this time. According to the most recent [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] data, community levels in New Mexico are still low except for two counties: De Baca and Los Alamos Counties are showing community level of medium.” The CDC will update its community levels later today. McGinnis Porter reiterated “the most important thing New Mexicans can do is to stay up to date on all COVID-19 vaccines, including recommended booster and additional doses” and said the department encourages any residents “at high risk of severe disease who test positive for COVID-19 to seek oral treatments as soon as possible after symptoms start within a five-day window.”

Resources: Vaccine registration; Booster registration Free at-home rapid antigen tests; Self-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

New Mexico’s nascent adult cannabis industry appears to be thriving. ICYMI, the state’s Cannabis Control Division announced retailers sold almost $40 million in both recreation and medical cannabis in the first month of sales that kicked off April 1, and Santa Fe had the third-most cannabis sales of any New Mexico city. Nonetheless, the financial end of entering the industry has plenty of hurdles. The most recent episode of the Growing Forward podcast, “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” delves into one of the largest: securing financing. For even more cannabis news, don’t miss the most recent installment of SFR’s Leaf Brief newsletter.

Fear and frustration in Northern NM

The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire has understandably inspired many emotions, including anger at the US Forest Service’s role in the blaze: the Hermits Peak portion began began April 6 as a prescribed burn. The Washington Post visits Guadalupita and finds “despair and frustration.” Some residents left under evacuation orders and are now “hanging on by a thread, credit cards maxed-out on hotel rooms,” the story notes, while “thousands of others” have “defied evacuation orders to defend land and animals that represent all they own, getting by on the limited supplies that make it past roadblocks—and puzzling over firefighting efforts some believe caused the conflagration and are now unable to tame it.” State Rep. Roger Montoya, D-Velarde, tells the Post of residents: “They’re traumatized. They are in fear. There is profound anger swelling up to the surface, and confusion.” The story also notes Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s recent request for the federal government to cover 100% of the costs in a letter that notes how the fire started. The Post speaks with several residents in the fire’s path, including Guadalupita Fire Department Chief Isaac Herrera, who expressed frustration about communication with the out-of-state firefighters and their method of back burning, but also acknowledges there have at least been no losses of human life. He lost two horses in the fire, which also scorched his land. “Everything has pretty much already been burnt, so it’s a relief that my community is safe,” Herrera says. “We’ve all lost, some more than others. But we’ve all lost.”

Forrest Fenn’s other treasures

When he died in September of 2020, Forrest Fenn left a legacy of a 10-year treasure hunt that inspired passion, books and lawsuits. He also left behind a lifetime of art amassed as a collector and dealer. On June 9, Hindman Auctions will be presenting “Native American Art: The Lifetime Collection of Forrest Fenn,” a 168-lot auction including pottery, baskets, rare photography, dolls, beadwork and Plains material (here’s the catalogue). According to a news release, top lots include a Sioux Twisted Pipe Stem with Catlinite Bowl that belonged to Sitting Bull, estimated at $60,000 to $80,000; and a 19th Century Sioux Grizzly Bear Claw Necklace, estimated at $40,000 to $60,000. “I was in awe of the impressive array of huge Pueblo storage jars lining shelves 20 feet above the floor of Fenn’s den in his Santa Fe home,” Wes Cowan, Hindman vice chairman said in a statement. “Beadwork from various Plains tribes filled two entire walls, and a table displayed a collection of rare Plains dolls. The collection spilled over to the floor, under tables, and over doorways.” Fenn began collecting at a young age and ran into controversy doing so at points. The FBI executed a search warrant at Fenn’s home in 2009 seeking eagle feathers, ancient Native artifacts and sacred items, as well as records dealing with the sale or possible illegal possession of such items. (Read more in this SFR story from Laura Paskus that year.)

Red flag return

Most of the state, including Santa Fe, returns into red flag weather today and tomorrow. According to the National Weather Service, today will be sunny with a high near 84 degrees with a north wind 5 to 10 mph becoming west 15 to 25 mph in the morning. Winds could gust as high as 35 mph.

Thanks for reading! ICYMI, this viral story about the Tennessee couple who woke up with a strange dog in their bed is pretty adorable; The Word wouldn’t mind waking up to a strange friendly dog (although the cat would not like it one bit).

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