New Mexico Tells Biden It Needs More Help

Prescribed burn in national forest is part of the problem, governor says
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 14, 2022 3:00 PM CDT
New Mexico Wants More Help With Fires
A haze of wildfire smoke hangs over the Upper Rio Grande valley and the mesa-top city of Los Alamos, N.M., on Thursday.   (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

(Newser) – New Mexico's governor is asking for additional federal assistance to respond to wildfires burning across the state's north, including one that is the second-largest in state history and that officials estimate has destroyed hundreds of homes. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Friday in a letter to President Biden that New Mexico needs more help than is being provided under the president's recent disaster declaration, the AP reports. The needed response, including immediate funding for debris removal and "a full range of emergency protective measures," exceeds the state's capabilities, the governor wrote.

The federal government should bear 100% of the costs because one part of the fire was ignited by wind-blown embers from a prescribed burn on the Santa Fe National Forest, Lujan Grisham said. That fire has since merged with another blaze and grown to 437 square miles. The 5-week-old combined fire for a time threatened the small New Mexico city of Las Vegas before being stopped just outside town in the past week. Nearly 3,000 personnel are working to keep the fire from multiple rural communities. Officials said Saturday that weather conditions still included unhelpful high temperatures and low humidity, but that less smoke had allowed firefighting aircraft to take to the skies for a second straight day.

Wildfires have broken out this spring across multiple western states, including California, Colorado, and Arizona. Predictions for the rest of the spring do not bode well for the West, with drought and warmer weather brought on by global warming worsening wildfire danger. Nationwide, more than 2,000 square miles have burned so far this year—the most at this point since 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. New Mexico's largest wildfire has a 500-mile perimeter, longer than the distance between San Francisco and San Diego, and was just 27% contained. Another fire to the west near Los Alamos has burned 71 square miles and was 23% contained.

(Read more wildfires stories.)

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