Joe Biden landed in Nuovo Messico on Saturday amid anger and frustration from wildfire survivors as he visited the state to review efforts to fight its biggest blaze in recorded history – which was started by federal officials.
Driven by drought and wind, the fire has destroyed hundreds of homes in mountains north-east of Santa Fe since two controlled burns by the US Forest Service went out of control in April.
Tens of thousands of residents have evacuated farming villages with twice the national poverty rate, upending fragile economies where residents cut firewood and raise hay to get by.
“This is not a natural disaster, this was man made by a government entity,” said Ella Arellano, whose family lost hundreds of acres of forest around the village of Holman. “It’s a mess, just a big mess that will take generations to recover from.“
Con più di 320,000 acres of mountains blackened by the Hermits Peak Calif Canyon fire, communities are preparing for mudslides, ash flows and flooding.
Before departing for New Mexico, Biden said he supported full federal funding to compensate for the cost of firefighting and recovery but added that it needed congressional approval.
“I can’t commit that on my own,” Biden said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has given more than $3m to more than 900 famiglie. But maximum Fema payouts of around $40,000 for destroyed houses are in some cases not enough to cover the loss of farm equipment which at one house was likely worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Another fire in south-west New Mexico is the second-largest in state history, underlining concerns that climate change is intensifying fires that overwhelm firefighters and threaten to destroy most forests in the US south west.
Forest Service investigators found that a controlled burn jumped out of bounds on 6 April to start the Hermits Peak fire. The Calf Canyon fire was caused by a burn pile of logs and branches on 19 aprile. The two fires merged on 22 aprile.
To prevent fires from spreading, land managers sometimes use controlled burns to reduce small trees, shrubs and other material that fuel wildfires. The U.S. Forest Service has since called for a temporary nationwide halt to the practice while it reviews procedures. (Reporting By Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico and Trevor Hunnicutt in Los Angeles; Editing by Aurora Ellis)