New Mexico record wildfire declared under control

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ALBUQUERQUE, NM – More than four grueling months and $300 million later, the federal government has declared the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history 100% under control, a notable step but just another step in what residents and local officials say is a long road to recovery.

The blaze was started in the spring by two stray directed fires conducted by the U.S. Forest Service. More than 530 square miles (1,373 square kilometers) of the Rocky Mountain foothills have burned, hundreds of homes have been destroyed, livelihoods have been lost, and drinking water supplies have been contaminated.

Local officials say there are years of work ahead of them to restore the landscape and protect against flooding after a fire.

San Miguel County Executive Joy Ansley and her team have been working tirelessly since the first plumes of smoke began rising from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. They helped coordinate the evacuation of thousands of people from small mountain towns and worked with the state and the city of Las Vegas as the flames approached.

With the summer rainy season in full swing, Ansley said parts of northern New Mexico are flooded weekly.

“It’s going to be a long process and just because the fire is under control doesn’t mean we’re definitely not off the hook,” she said Tuesday.

In addition to firefighting costs, federal emergency officials have provided more than $4.5 million in assistance to affected individuals and households and $6.7 million in low-interest loans. interest in small businesses.

While more than 1,200 requests for individual assistance have been reviewed, the Federal Emergency Management Agency did not specify the total number of requests received or denied.

Some residents expressed frustration with denials of not having civic addresses for their rural properties. Others have complained that federal officials don’t understand rural life in northern New Mexico and how the fallout from the fire has affected them.

New Mexico’s major disaster declaration has been expanded to include flooding, mudslides and debris flows directly related to wildfires. FEMA spokeswoman Dasha Castillo said residents who have already applied for wildfire disaster assistance need only update their original application to include flooding or other damage.

Castillo encouraged people to contact FEMA if they applied and didn’t hear back.

Legislation is pending in Congress that would authorize full compensation for New Mexico residents and business owners for losses caused by the massive wildfire, but there is uncertainty about the ultimate price.

The scar left by the wildfire includes some areas that were burnt to ash and others where the gravity was less intense. More than 400 firefighters are still assigned to the blaze and have been busy repairing hundreds of miles of severed fire lines to contain the flames, digging trenches to control erosion and clearing fallen trees and other debris.

The US Forest Service said the helicopters will distribute about 138 tons (125 metric tons) of seed and 5,440 tons (4,935 metric tons) of mulch. So far, about 4 square miles (10 square kilometers) have been seeded.

No hotspots have been reported for more than a month, but given the history of when the fire started, officials wanted to be confident when declaring containment, said Stefan La-Sky, an official. fire information to the US Forest Service.

“We don’t take that number lightly,” he said of the designation.

New Mexico marked the early start of what has been a devastating wildfire season across the United States with a deadly blaze in Ruidoso and then the blaze near Las Vegas.

In total, federal fire officials report more than 9,372 square miles (24,273 square kilometers) have burned since the start of the year to exceed the 10-year average, and forecasts for hotter, drier weather mean that some areas will see higher than normal wildfires. activity in the fall.

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