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FEMA extends flood insurance for fire victims

The Rio de la Casa runs through the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon burn scar. Pictured on Sept. 13, 2022.
Megan Gleason
Source New Mexico
The Rio de la Casa runs through the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon burn scar. Pictured on Sept. 13, 2022.

Victims of last year's Calf Canyon/Hermit's Peak fire will now be eligible for five years of flood insurance, with premiums paid for by the federal government.

After the state's largest recorded wildfire scorched hundreds of square miles last year, the vegetation and soil that used to soak up water are badly burned. During rainy periods, water has poured off charred mountainsides and flooded homes and farmland.

Because the fire was accidentally started by a federal agency, the Forest Service, victims are eligible for full compensation for any damage. FEMA is handling the process and initially only offered one year of flood insurance.

Local lawyer Antonia Roybal-Mack told KUNM in March that many residents considered this inadequate.

"We are in our second year of floods that are starting right now. And we know that the flooding will be continuous for up to five years," she said.

Now, the National Flood Insurance Program in partnership with FEMA is enabling claimants to receive five years of flood insurance.

Claims Office Director Angela Gladwell told reporters on Thursday that the expansion came after a public comment process.

"This is one of those concerns that we heard loud and clear in those meetings, the concern that residents had about their long term risk of flooding," she said.

In terms of the rest of the claims process, the agency issued interim rules for how it would work last year, but after hundreds of public comments, still hasn't finalized them.

"We are still working through the process to finalize the rule, it is in the final review," Gladwell said.

The agency has encouraged people to submit claims in the absence of a final rule.

"The reason we're doing that is so that we can begin working with claimants now to be able to address urgent needs, more straightforward losses, and go ahead and get them those payments," she said.

But although nearly $4 billion has been appropriated for this program, Gladwell said only about $3 million has been awarded so far, most of that to the city of Las Vegas rather than individual claimants.

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.