New Mexico wildfires: Biden promises feds will cover ‘100%’ of costs

“I think we have a responsibility as a government to deal with communities that are at risk. And today I am announcing that the federal government is covering 100% of the costs,” Biden said to applause from Santa. F.

The blaze, which spans more than 300,000 burned acres, is the largest wildfire on record in the state. Additionally, the Black Fire continues to burn in New Mexico and is the second largest blaze in state history, with over 298,000 acres burned – meaning the two largest fires in history of the state have occurred during this record-breaking wildfire year and are still burning.

Forest Service investigators determined last month that a persistent fire in January sparked the Calf Canyon Fire that had been burning in New Mexico for more than a month and a half. The Calf Canyon Fire then merged with the Hermits Peak Fire, which was caused by spot fires from prescribed burns.

Biden reiterated on Saturday that the Forest Service had put a full pause on prescribed burns, saying “99.8% are going as planned, but this time, tragically, they’re not.” The Forest Service is conducting a 90-day review, which will be made public.

“It has to happen, and I will be informed of the results, and we will inform the world of the, the country of the results,” the president promised as he received a briefing on the fires from state and local officials in Santa Fe. .

Prescribed fires are often used to manage vegetation, reduce hazardous fuels near residential communities, minimize the spread of insect pests and disease, improve habitat for threatened and endangered species, and recycle nutrients, according to the Forest Service. They are also essential tools to help reduce the threat of extreme fires in the future.

Biden has come under pressure from state and local lawmakers who have urged the federal government to pay for the fire response in full. The president approved a major disaster declaration for five New Mexico counties hit by fires last month. But the federal government was only responsible for 75% of the response costs, with the state picking up the remaining 25%. The president said on Saturday that the federal government would now relinquish that 25% share. “It really will be a solid bridge until we pass the Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act,” Biden said.

In a lighter moment earlier in the briefing, Biden said of New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat and former congresswoman, that “when she asks for something, I just say yes.” To which Lujan Grisham joked: “(Can you ask) the Legislature to do this?”

Biden also described his flight around the perimeter of the fire while aboard Air Force One en route to New Mexico from Los Angeles, reflecting on its overwhelming size and saying some parts looked like a ” lunar landscape”.

“We flew over the perimeter of the fire, and it’s an incredible amount of territory and the impact on the families who have been there for so long has been so significant,” Biden said.

So far in 2022, more than 825,000 acres have burned in New Mexico, about four times the state’s annual average.

“We have a responsibility to help this state recover, to help the families who have been here for centuries. … Governor, let me be clear: we will be here for you in response and in recovery for as long as it takes,” Biden said.

The president then met with first responders and fire survivors behind closed doors.

Lujan Grisham, speaking ahead of Biden, urged the federal government to continue to accept responsibility for the Forest Service’s role in starting the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire.

“This one was not caused naturally. Your administration leaned in from the start, not only identifying how the fire was caused by the actions of the U.S. Forest Service, but acknowledging that we need to get it right. differently, together,” the governor said. .

CNN’s Paradise Afshar and Christina Maxouris contributed to this report.