WASHINGTON - A bill that aims to provide compensation for victims of New Mexico's largest wildfire in state history will now move onto the Senate after being overwhelmingly passed in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act was introduced by New Mexico Rep. Leger Fernández and Sen. Ben Ray Luján and was co-sponsored by Sen. Martin Henrich and Reps. Yvette Herrell and Melanie Stansbury.
If the bill is signed into law, it will authorize full compensation for New Mexico residents and business owners for losses caused by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire.
"My House colleagues recognized the federal government's responsibility for the devastation the Forest Service-started wildfires wreaked on our communities when the House overwhelmingly passed the Hermit's Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act in the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act)," Fernández said in a statement. "Even as we grieve, we must rebuild from the intergenerational loss of homes and business, beautiful forests, and invaluable memories. This bill is an essential first step to provide full compensation for these losses so that the rebuilding can truly begin. I will work tirelessly until we succeed in getting my gente the compensation they deserve."
The Calf Canyon Fire on the Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger District of the Santa Fe National Forest was caused by a sleeper fire from January that remained dormant under the surface through three winter snow events before reemerging in April.
The fire then merged with the Hermits Peak Fire, which was also caused by an escaped prescribed burn.
As of July 17, the fire has scorched 341,735 acres and is about 93% contained.
"This Act is urgently needed because FEMA disaster assistance under the Stafford Act is not meant to provide full compensation for loss of property from natural disasters. These wildfires, however, were manmade disasters and responsibility for the losses lies with the federal government." Fernández added.
The bill would establish an office of Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Claims within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to receive, process and pay claims for those who have been affected by the wildfire.
Damages that would be covered if the bill is approved include:
- Loss of property, including: an uninsured or underinsured property loss; a decrease in the value of real property; damage to physical infrastructure, including irrigation infrastructure; a cost resulting from lost subsistence from hunting, fishing, firewood gathering, timbering, grazing, or agricultural activities conducted on land damaged by the fire; a cost of reforestation or revegetation on Tribal or non-Federal land;
- Business loss, to include: damage to tangible assets or inventory; business interruption losses; overhead costs; and employee wages for work not performed;
- Financial loss, to include: increased mortgage interest costs; in insurance deductible; a temporary living or relocation expense; lost wages or personal income; emergency staffing expenses; debris removal and other cleanup costs; a premium for flood insurance; and costs for efforts to reduce the risk of wildfire, flood, or other natural disaster in the counties specified in the major disaster declaration; and
- Any other damages that the FEMA Administrator determines to be appropriate for inclusion as property, business, or financial loss.
The bill also includes the federal cost share of assistance provided to state or local projects under the Other Needs Program Assistance be 100%.
"As our communities continue to battle devastating wildfires, the federal government has a special responsibility to make New Mexicans whole again," Stansbury said in a statement. "New Mexicans are resilient, but we need federal support to rebuild.
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