June 27, 2022

Biden amends disaster declaration for wildfire, increasing time for NM to receive federal assistance

Benjamin Hale

Rio La Casa flows through an area burned by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire.

President Joe Biden authorized an increase in federal funds available to New Mexico in light of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, which was sparked by U.S. Forest Service prescribed burns.

The additional funding available through the disaster declaration that was amended on Monday will help with debris removal and emergency protective measures that the state of New Mexico has taken. 

When the original declaration was issued on May 4, it set the federal government’s share at 75 percent of total eligible costs for measures taken during the first 90 days of the incident period. That was amended on June 11 to increase the federal share to 100 percent of total eligible costs.

Monday’s amendment changes the time limit. It now states that eligible expenses that occur within 90 days of the original declaration can receive federal funds, instead of the first 90 days of the incident period.

This provides more time for Congress to potentially pass the Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act.

The amendment comes as monsoon rains have assisted firefighters’ efforts to contain what has become the largest fire in state history.

According to the Monday morning update, the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire consumed more than 341,000 and was 92 percent contained. The recent storms brought precipitation to the northern area of the fire, which has reduced the heat within the fire’s perimeter.

While the rains mean good news in terms of fire suppression, they also mean the danger of flash flooding and debris flows.

According to Monday’s update, a rapid response team is monitoring waterways for built-up debris and is available for “emergency response to protect life and property.”

The update further stated that the rain has saturated roadways, which has prevented firefighters from accessing some parts of the fire and is also limiting the ability to remove heavy equipment. 

Aerial resources in the southern zone have also been limited by the weather.