Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Biden Approves Presidential Disaster Declaration for NM Wildfires |

President Joe Biden yesterday approved Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s request for a presidential disaster declaration for five counties particularly stricken from the early and devastating start of New Mexico’s wildfire season. The disaster designation will make additional funds and resources available in Colfax, Lincoln, Mora, San Miguel and Valencia counties.

The state’s congressional delegation also wrote Biden a letter asking him to expedite the request to waive the 25% non-federal cost share requirement for federal assistance. US Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-NM, announced the approval during last night’s virtual briefing on the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, saying the approval was the fastest she could remember for a presidential declaration.

“We made the point all along that these communities needed help and needed help right now,” Leger Fernández said. “They are communities that are centuries old. They are communities that might not be rich in cash and income, but they are incredibly rich in culture and heritage. And their lands that they have taken care of for centuries and their homes they have taken care of for centuries are being destroyed…”

The disaster declaration comes as fire managers and law enforcement in San Miguel and Mora counties reported progress made yesterday on the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, currently estimated at approximately 160,000 acres and 20% containment.

“Things have been going very good today,” Operations Section Chief Todd Abel said last night. “Even with those stiff winds, it was a little bit better day for us to get some progress done.” Following a presentation in which he reviewed areas of the fire and the community impacts, he also reassured viewers that “all those homes out there, the little communities, I may not have named them all, but I guarantee our folks are in each one of watching those communities making sure fire doesn’t impact that. They’re making sure they know the county really well so if fire does get into that area they’re able to go in there and keep fire from impacting those structures.”

Fire behavior analyst Dan Pearson said today looks like “about the best fire weather we’ve had in the last two-and-a-half weeks,” and operational personnel plan to take advantage of a 48-hour break from red flag conditions to prepare for high winds forecast to begin over the weekend.

San Miguel County Sheriff Chris Lopez said while “repopulating” evacuees—some 15,500 people have been driven from their homes by the fire—he also wants to see how the defenses being set up withstand the upcoming return of extreme wind.

“We’ve come to this crossroads on a few different occasions to where we were feeling good about it and we come up to a wind event and it hasn’t went as planned,” Lopez said. “For that reason, and looking at this in a public safety standpoint, I would feel a lot more comfortable to get through this period and make sure that things are good to go before we start repopulating because the worst thing I would want to do is to allow people back into an area and then have to bring them back out.”

While last night’s report struck a notably optimistic tone, Incident Commander Dave Bales also cautioned viewers that “this fire fight’s not over,” and while the end of the week will offer a reprieve from high winds: “We know what’s coming.”

The Cerro Pelado fire in the Jemez Mountains was reported as of last night to have grown to 26,927 acres, 13% containment and is now 5.16 miles from Los Alamos National Laboratory property and 10 miles from Los Alamos County (see map here).

“The good news is that this fire is behaving more like a controlled burn,” Rich Nieto, the Laboratory’s Wildland Fire manager, said in a statement. “It’s not burning in the tree canopy like the Calf and Hermit’s Peak fires. It’s burning the brush and falling trees on the ground. There’s a lot of smoke, but the smoke can be misleading and make things appear worse than they are. We’re still taking this fire very seriously because conditions can always change, but currently, we feel confident that our mitigation measures will protect Laboratory property and the county.”

The state also announced yesterday the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, along with multiple state agencies, has established a Joint Information Task Force to provide the public with consolidated fire information, and launched an updated wildfire page on the DHSEM webpage, which it encourages the public to use “as their primary and most accurate wildfire source of information.”

Locally, Fire Station 5, 1130 Siler Road, is accepting donations for fire victims between 8 am and 5 pm, Monday through Friday and particularly asks for donations of nonperishables; sports drinks; hot cereal; children’s clothing and toys; diapers personal hygiene items; and paper products, as well as animal feed and miscellaneous items for animals like troughs, hay, bowls and crates.

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