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Hermit's Peak Fire Assistance Act moves closer to passing into law

The remnants of artist Anita Ross's studio and workshop in the forests outside the town of Mora, which were badly burned by the Calf Canyon Hermits Peak fire
Alice Fordham
The remnants of artist Anita Ross's studio and workshop in the forests outside the town of Mora, which were badly burned by the Calf Canyon Hermits Peak fire

Legislation that could provide full compensation for thousands of people affected by the Calf Canyon/Hermit's Peak fire took a key step forward Thursday.

The proposed Hermit's Peak Fire Assistance Act would allow anyone affected by the fire to claim full compensation, because the state's largest-ever wildfire began as two planned burns by the US Forest Service.

It mirrors similar legislation passed after the Cerro Grande fire in 2000, which began as a planned burn, and destroyed about 280 houses and parts of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

If the law passes, it would open the door to much more help for people who have lost homes, farm buildings, grazing land and logging rights. FEMA spokesperson Dasha Castillo told KUNM that as of July 11, the agency had given nearly $4 million to 1,117 applicants for help.

For comparison, after the Cerro Grande fire, the initial budget allocation for compensation was $455 million and ultimately the federal government spent around $1 billion.

In Mora County, the Emergency Manager David Montoya said so far assessors have counted about 84 primary residences destroyed by the fire, and more than 70 other buildings. According to a June 17 memorandum to the Legislative Finance Committee, local officials say over 500 homes in San Miguel County have been lost to date. Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández also told KUNM there has been some fire damage in Taos County as well.

The proposed assistance legislation has been included in the annual National Defense Authorization Act, sponsored by Rep. Leger Fernández and Senator Ben Ray Luján. On Thursday, the Act passed the House with the fire assistance legislation in it. The legislation is not yet scheduled for its Senate hearing.

Leger Fernández told KUNM this law could be critical for her constituents.

"It's my belief that the Forest Service, therefore the federal government, must take responsibility for the harm that they caused," she said. "We must fully compensate all of the individuals who lost their business, who lost income, who lost their homes that might not have been their primary home, but it's the generational home."

She urged anyone whose FEMA request has been rejected, or who is in need of help, to call her office at (505) 428-4680, so she and her staff can help with bureaucratic obstacles.

This coverage was made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners.

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.
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