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Senators meet with the Mescalero Apache people impacted by the South Fork and Salt fires

On Friday, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., traveled to the Mescalero Apache Reservation to meet with tribal leaders and families devastated by both the South Fork and Salt fires that continue to burn.

Thora Padilla, president of the Mescalero Apache tribe, says it’s been very difficult for her community.

“People were really worried because it came so close to the homes and we were scared, too, not knowing what exactly is going to happen,” she said.

She said her tribe needs more federal funding to conduct thinning which involves removing smaller trees that could possibly help ignite fires.

“We are never going to get rid of fire,” she said. “Fire is sacred to us as a people. It's very important part of our culture. But, you know, we need to learn how to live with fire and not fear it and respect it.”

Heinrich said he’s working to restore cellular service.

“My staff in D.C. this week spent a lot of time just talking to individual cell service providers, trying to get T-Mobile and Verizon and AT&T back into some of these places where we've lost connectivity,” he said. “But it is a process, and it is very much on our radar screen, and something that we're working on today.”

Luján said it’s hard to see the devastation in so many areas.

“Then to talk to so many families that have been evacuated, other families that are volunteering, serving food, just helping people getting their medication,” he said. “It's incredible to see that side of people in a community. That's what makes us strong in New Mexico, but it's absolutely clear that the people in all of these communities need all of our help.”

President Padilla shared words of wisdom to her people.

“Keep the faith. We’ll get to go back home soon.”

Support for this coverage comes from the Thornburg Foundation.

Jeanette DeDios is from the Jicarilla Apache and Diné Nations and grew up in Albuquerque, NM. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2022 where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism, English and Film. She’s a former Local News Fund Fellow. Jeanette can be contacted at jeanettededios@kunm.org or via Twitter @JeanetteDeDios.
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