The Federal Emergency Management Agency launched a hotline Monday morning to help northern New Mexico disaster victims learn more about an office tasked with paying them nearly $4 billion in compensation.
Calls to the newly created Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Claims Office helpline that morning didn’t go through, however, because the federal agency put out the wrong number.
The office, run by FEMA, is tasked with compensating those affected by the 340,000-acre fire that was started last April by two botched controlled burns ignited by the United States Forest Service.
Correct hotline number
Anyone with questions about filing claims to get compensated for lost property or with inquiries about the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire claims offices can call 505-995-7133 or email [email protected].
The phone hotline is open Monday-Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with English and Spanish options available.
Workers will also begin calling people who have submitted claims to schedule appointments and go over questions or concerns soon.
FEMA sent out a news release sending people to a nonworking number on Monday morning. It had one incorrect digit. The incorrect phone number was then shared by news outlets and others.
Source New Mexico reporters called the number FEMA sent in its public notice on Monday morning multiple times.
None of the calls went through. Louie Trujillo, mayor of Las Vegas, N.M., also tried to no avail.
Reached Monday afternoon, Mora County Commissioner Veronica Serna told Source New Mexico she’d already shared that wrong phone number on her Facebook page. The local radio station KNMX had also shared that across various platforms.
She said she was frustrated to find out that number was wrong.
“Are you serious?” she told a Source New Mexico reporter.
“It’s unfortunate, and I don’t know what to say,” Serna said about the incorrect information from FEMA.
She immediately updated her Facebook post with the correct number. It was about three hours after the hotline launched at that point.
“I put it out there, and people trust that I’m sharing good information with them,” she said. “And apparently it wasn’t good information. But I shared whatever FEMA had put out there.”
Shortly after Source New Mexico asked about why the hotline directed people to a disconnected number, FEMA sent out a new press release with a new number, but the agency did not mention the error in the second news release.
The corrected hotline number directs people to a recorded prompt offering claims services through the federal agency. The message does give the caller a language option to proceed in English or Spanish.
Trujillo, the Las Vegas mayor, said FEMA’s technical issues worry him.
“I would just caution FEMA to be a little safer with the public information they’re putting out,” he said.
Trujillo is working with the federal agency on infrastructure projects to recover from the fire destruction, such as a complete renovation of the city’s water treatment facility. In his experience, the mayor said it took a while to get communication from FEMA at all.
“Anytime you’re dealing with government agencies, sometimes it can be a bit unnerving with all the things you have to do — paperwork you have to file and timelines and so forth,” Trujillo said.
FEMA has not yet opened claims offices in and near the burn scar so that people can ask questions in person. Serna said bureaucracy is likely to blame for the long recovery process.
Many victims trying to navigate FEMA have complained in the past about the confusing process, too, some even left in inadequate housing while waiting for the federal agency to respond.
Were you affected by the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire? We want to hear from you.
Before Serna even knew the original number was incorrect, she said FEMA’s recovery efforts have been a long process that disaster victims are trying to get through.
“It’s been very frustrating for a lot of the people because they’re aching to get their lives back,” she said.
Workers at the FEMA claims office will be reaching out to people who have filed forms seeking compensation for their losses to answer questions or schedule in-person appointments, according to a FEMA statement released Monday afternoon.
The workers should reach out by the end of April if the form is already submitted or within a month if it’s turned in after Monday.
The physical claims offices are not set up in Las Vegas, Mora or any of the local communities affected by the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon fire yet. FEMA spokesperson Angela Byrd said the offices in those places should be up and running next month. Another office in Santa Fe is also expected.
It’s up to these offices to hand out $3.95 billion to victims of the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire. This money is coming from the federal government because their botched prescribed burns are what started the disaster — the largest wildfire in New Mexico history — in the first place.
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