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State insurance officials on the ground in Ruidoso to help fire victims

The remains of the Wild West Ski Shop, destroyed by the South Fork Fire, are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)
Andres Leighton/AP
FR171260 AP
The remains of the Wild West Ski Shop, destroyed by the South Fork Fire, are pictured in the mountain village of Ruidoso, N.M., Saturday, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

New Mexico’s Office of the Superintendent of Insurance regulates the industry in the state and two bureau chiefs are in Ruidoso helping victims of the South Fork and Salt Fires navigate the long process of recovery. KRWG’s KC Counts spoke with Melissa Robertson, Property and Casualty Bureau chief, and Elouisa “Lu” Macias, chief of the Consumer Assistance and Civil Investigations Bureau, about their work.

ELOUISA “LU” MACIAS: We experienced this with the Hermit's Peak/ Calf Canyon Fire. There was a lot of displacement. Unfortunately, insurance was not big in that area. We're in a different situation with Ruidoso. There is insurance. We have an emergency order mandating immediate payment of $5,000 for additional living expenses for the evacuees to get hotel and any necessities that they need. And as they're coming in, we would like them to start assessing the situation, the damages to their home, if anything was lost, start writing everything that you can possibly think of. It doesn't all come to you immediately, so it's going to take time.


KRWG: I guess it can vary pretty dramatically, from one community to the next, or even within a community in New Mexico, in terms of, say, what kind of coverage people might have. You mentioned, a lot of people didn't have insurance in the Hermit's Peak/Calf Canyon situation. Are those people qualified, then, to get help from the federal government or be made whole in some other way?


MACIAS: The federal government did step in. FEMA is working with a lot of people who did file claims. A lot of them have, still have not even filed claims with FEMA. But as they file claims with FEMA, they assess the situation and they have been making payments to them,


KRWG: give us a little bit of an idea of what you'll the two of you will be doing on a day to day basis in the community.


MACIAS: Currently, on a day to day basis, we have a hotline that anybody, pretty much, can call, and we are addressing coverage information questions, following through with the state mandate, we are referring people to other agencies if they did not have insurance, or pointing out resources that they can use. We're doing everything we possibly can to help them, even if it's not in the scope of our agency itself. We just want to help the community, and we've been there, and we will stay there, and we are available from 8am to 8pm via phone and at our DRC centers.


KRWG: Melissa, earlier Lou mentioned making that list. I'd like for you to touch a little bit on what that what that process involves when we're thinking about all of the things we have lost, maybe you have some tips for people to make that list as complete as possible.


MELISSA ROBERTSON: We've always talked about in the past is picture your home, where your home was, and go room by room, the living room was here and in the living room, these are the items we had, all the way down to bathroom drawers and what's under cabinets. People need to realize that, you know, even cleaning supplies were personal items. I don't think in any of these anybody has been able to complete this to 100%. I know after several losses, a year or two down the road, somebody will think, “Hey, I have that.” And then the thought of, “I had that.” The best thing is to picture the home where it was and think of each item. A lot of people are thinking large items -- your couch, your TV -- but again, there's those small items that were in drawers or in cabinets.


KRWG: Obviously going through a catastrophic loss like this is a very emotional thing. When you deal with these cases, what impacts you the most as you're working these scenes?


MACIAS: The victims. They're lost. They're emotionally drained. You just want to do everything you can to help them find their level ground again, because they're not on it. You see the devastation around you, that everything in their world has just collapsed, and you want to try to make everything that you possibly can as easy for them as possible to be able to try to get back on track.


KRWG: Melissa, would you like to add anything?


ROBERTSON: You want to do your best to provide what their new normal will be. There is no normal right now. One of the major impacts, I guess, that really has hit home is we were working out of the EOC [Emergency Operations Center] in Ruidoso the last few days, and the number of first responders that also lost home. So they are still up in the area doing relief -- whether it be disaster, electrical, utility -- and in the process, their families are located in another area. And so you still have family members working in regards to the fires, and you have the other part of the family trying to see what's going to be next.

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