Editor’s note: Fire officials said Saturday morning that the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire has grown to just under 280,000 acres and is now 27% contained.
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As wildfires rage across drought-stricken New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has asked the federal government for more assistance to battle the blazes.
The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire has destroyed more than 400 structures, according to the Southwest Coordination Center.
Lujan Grisham on Friday sent a letter to President Biden, requesting immediate funds for debris removal and a “full range of emergency protective measures.”
The president’s recent disaster declaration opens up money for individuals and businesses impacted by fires in five counties.
FEMA has approved more than $394,000 in assistance under the declaration.
The governor thanked Biden for “incredibly helpful resources,” and said the state is “utilizing every available asset.”
“However, the ever-increasing costs to save lives and protect New Mexicans’ homes, property, and heritage as these fires continue exceeds the capability of the state,” Lujan Grisham wrote.
She requested that the federal government cover 100% of the costs.
The Hermits Peak wildfire began as a U.S. Forest Service prescribed burn 12 miles northwest of Las Vegas on April 6.
The fire, which merged with Calf Canyon in late April, is more than 270,000 acres and 29% contained as of Friday evening.
New Mexico House Republican leaders asked Lujan Grisham to task state agencies with joining a federal investigation into the prescribed burn that became the massive wildfire.
“It is our sincerest belief that the people of northern New Mexico deserve an impartial and detailed investigation conducted by parties other than those employed by the federal government,” the lawmakers wrote the governor on Friday.
Fire crews are switching to a new strategy this weekend.
A Type 1 incident management team will tackle the fire’s northern area. Another team will be assigned to the south.
“Moving folks from north to south, it’s a logistical challenge to support those folks, to feed them and make sure they’re taken care of,” said incident commander Dave Bales. “This will help support … the boots on the ground in these communities.”
Fire team operations section chief Todd Abel said that a break from severe winds Friday allowed crews to fly aircraft and drop fire retardant and water.
“We haven’t had that opportunity in a long time,” Abel said.
The state Environment Department is providing drinking water and N95 masks to residents returning to fire-evacuated areas.
San Miguel County residents can bring containers for water to Mike Mateo Sena Elementary School in Sapello from 9 to 11 a.m. each day.
The Mora County Courthouse parking lot will distribute water from 1 to 3 p.m.
FEMA funds can help individuals pay for housing and repairs, said agency spokesperson Dasha Castillo.
“Right now we have disaster survivor assistance teams knocking on doors, and they have their tablets with them so they can help people register,” Castillo said. “Nobody has to pay FEMA back.”
Non-American citizens with household members who are citizens or children who were born in the U.S. can register with that individual’s Social Security number and could be eligible for monetary assistance.
A wildfire that started east of Jemez Springs on April 22 has grown to more than 45,000 acres and is 19% contained as of Friday evening.
Crews will work this weekend to address potential fire activity on the eastern and southern edges of the fire in Alamo Canyon and Peralta Canyons.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.