Biden boosts federal aid for New Mexico wildfire recovery during visit

Betty Q. Hixson

SANTA FE – President Joe Biden increased federal support Saturday for federal relief addressing New Mexico’s catastrophic wildfires and made his first visit to the state since taking office in 2021.

Biden committed the federal government to paying 100 percent of the cost of debris removal and emergency remediation for wildfires that have scorched the state this year, including the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire in northern New Mexico and the Black Fire in the Gila National Forest. 

That increases federal support since Biden’s emergency declaration in May, which pledged 75 percent of the funding with New Mexico matching the rest. 

President Biden speaks to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, second from left, and Senator Martin Heinrich, left, after landing in Albuquerque at the Kirtland Air Force Base on Saturday, June 12, 2022.

“This additional support will help ensure that New Mexico has no financial limitations related to immediate lifesaving and life sustaining operations related to the ongoing wildfires,” the Federal Emergency Management Agency stated Saturday.

Biden touched down at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque at about 1:40 p.m. Saturday afternoon, briefly greeting Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and most of New Mexico’s congressional delegation as well as Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. The governor rode with Biden as the motorcade left for a briefing in Santa Fe where Biden announced the additional support. 

He also acknowledged the role the U.S. Forest Service had played in the devastation before meeting with first responders and survivors of the fires. 

President Joe Biden talks with staff at the New Mexico State Emergency Operations Center after a fire briefing  on June 11, 2022. Biden said he would support the federal government assuming the full cost of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon wildfire, which has devastated a large swath of Northern New Mexico.

The Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fires began in April northwest of Las Vegas, N.M., both as a result of prescribed burns, which the Forest Service has since suspended. The fires merged and have burned more than 300,000 acres. 

Biden reportedly flew over the burn scar during Air Force One’s approach to Kirtland. 

The Black Fire in the Gila National Forest also continued to burn, having consumed nearly 300,000 acres itself. The wildfires are the two largest in New Mexico history. More than 800,000 acres have burned so far this year. 

Meanwhile, crews are doing their best to remove debris and establish channels for water anticipated from New Mexico’s summer monsoon season.

President Joe Biden listens to a briefing by  New Mexico Secretary of Homeland Security and Emergency Management David Dye during a meeting at the New Mexico National Guard Armory on June 11, 2022 to discuss the devastating wildfire season that has stricken the state. Biden said he would support the federal government assuming the full cost of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon wildfire, which has devastated a large swath of Northern New Mexico.

A coalition of indigenous and climate action groups rallied near a Santa Fe metro station on the motorcade’s route, with a gathering organizers said topped 30 before dispersing. Yang Toledo of Youth United for Climate Crisis Action (YUCCA) said the motorcade passed before the group had arranged banners on the Interstate 25 overpass. 

“We really wanted to just make it known that these indigenous grassroots organizations in New Mexico are still demanding that Biden take climate action as soon as possible,” she said.

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