August 23, 2023

Agencies give updates on Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire recovery


Fireweed blooms among burnt trees along FS RD161 on August 8th, 2022 following the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire,

In the year following the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, communities and residents impacted by the blaze have sought funding to pay for the damages.

Both state and local agencies are working to help communities and individuals.

Representatives from both the state and federal government updated the interim Legislative Finance Committee about those efforts during a meeting on Tuesday in Las Vegas, which is one of the communities impacted by the fire.

“Recovery is a marathon. It is not a sprint, it means that we are having to coordinate multiple different sections of the government, both state and federal and local to be able to provide a whole community approach to all of our folks who have been affected,” Ali Rye, the state’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s deputy secretary of programs, told the Legislative Finance Committee. “So the motto that we have used and continue to use throughout this disaster is recovery is most effective when it’s locally executed, state managed and federally supported.”

Rye said that “as of right now, the disaster is sitting at $197 million, of that we’ve had $64 million obligated to the state.”

This funding is available through the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which governs how the federal government responds to natural disasters like the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire. This is only one pot of funding available to help the communities. 

Last year, the federal government passed the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act.

In light of that legislation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency  created a new program to assist the people impacted by the fire and subsequent flooding. Angela Gladwell is the director of FEMA’s Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Claims Office.

“We’re helping to fill gaps where they exist, and we’re utilizing this unique pot of funding that we have totaling $3.95 billion to best meet the needs of those that are impacted and advancing those strategies,” she said.

Gladwell said that initiative work similar to an insurance program. She explained that people submit a claim and that it is evaluated.

“We work to identify how much to compensate them for that loss. And then we issue them a check,” she said.

Gladwell said the claims office has received more than 1,800 notices of loss and that number continues to increase daily.

“We have paid over $27 million in claims,” she said.

The claims office plans to increase that with a goal of reaching $100 million by the end of the calendar year.

But, Rye said, there is more to disaster recovery than just financial support.

“We all know that disaster recovery is not just handing dollars out to our applicants and making sure that they recover on their own,” she said. “We are here to make sure that folks get back into their homes, make sure that they have the mental health support that they need, making sure that they are taken care of in any way, whether it’s debris removal off of their private property or finding a place to live.”

As the climate changes, massive wildfires like the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire are more likely to occur. 

While the blaze was started by U.S. Forest Service prescribed burn efforts, the dry conditions with high winds and low humidity allowed it to grow into the largest wildfire in state history.

Ronojoy Sen with Pew Charitable Trusts said wildfires are becoming bigger and more expensive. He said over the past five years the number of acres burned by fires has been 68 percent higher than the average number of acres burned over the previous three decades.

He said this trend is stressing state and local budgets across the country as they work to respond to the fires and recover after incidents.