Biden faces fury of government-started New Mexico wildfires | Top news

By Andrew Hay and Trevor Hunnicutt

ALBUQUERQUE, NM, LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden landed in New Mexico on Saturday amid wildfire survivors’ anger and frustration as he travels to the state to examine the efforts to fight its largest fire in recorded history which was started by federal officials.

Driven by drought and wind, the blaze has destroyed hundreds of homes in the mountains northeast of Santa Fe since two burns monitored by the US Forest Service (USFS) spiraled out of control in April.

Air Force One banked and circled around fire damage in New Mexico, allowing Biden to view the scorched forest and plumes of smoke from the sky before landing in the state and greeting the governor and others elected officials who called for more financial support from the federal government. government.

Tens of thousands of residents have evacuated Indo-Hispano farming villages with twice the national poverty rate, upending fragile economies where residents chop firewood and grow hay to get by.

“It’s not a natural disaster, it’s a man made by government entity,” said Ella Arellano, whose family lost hundreds of acres of forest around the village of Holman. “It’s a mess, just a big mess that will take generations to recover from.”

With more than 320,000 acres (129,500 hectares) of mountains blackened by the Hermits Peak Calf Canyon fire, communities are preparing for landslides, ash flows and flooding in areas where extreme fires have gave forest floors the equivalent in water absorption of asphalt.

Before leaving for New Mexico, Biden said he supported full federal funding to offset the cost of firefighting and recovery, but added he needed congressional approval.

“I can’t commit alone,” Biden said of the need for Congress to back full funding.

So far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has given more than $3 million to more than 900 households. But FEMA’s maximum payouts of about $40,000 for destroyed homes aren’t enough in some cases to cover the loss of farm equipment that burned next to homes, which in one home was likely worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. .

The blaze is burning with another in southwestern New Mexico that is the second largest in state history, underscoring concerns that climate change is intensifying blazes that are overwhelming firefighters and threatening to destroy at term most forests in the southwestern United States.

Forest Service investigators found a USFS-controlled burn jumped out of bounds on April 6 to start the Hermits Peak Fire. The Calf Canyon fire was caused by a pile of logs and branches burned by the USFS on April 19. The two fires merged on April 22.

To prevent fires from spreading, land managers sometimes use controlled burns to reduce small trees, shrubs and other materials that fuel wildfires. The US Forest Service has since called for a temporary nationwide halt to the practice while it reviews the proceedings. [nL2N2XC2KJ]

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico and Trevor Hunnicutt in Los Angeles and Michael Martina; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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