Biden to visit NM for wildfire briefing - Albuquerque Journal

Biden to visit NM for wildfire briefing

President Joe Biden plans to visit New Mexico on June 11 for a briefing on wildfires burning in the state. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

SANTA FE — President Joe Biden plans to visit Santa Fe next weekend for a briefing on the wildfires ripping through New Mexico — one of which has grown to 317,000 acres, an area larger than Los Angeles.

The president is set to meet June 11 with state officials, first responders and families affected by the fires, according to the White House.

It will be Biden’s first visit to New Mexico as president and the state’s first presidential visit since September 2019, when Donald Trump held a rally in Rio Rancho.

Biden next week will visit the state Emergency Operation Center in Santa Fe, about an hour’s drive from Las Vegas, the northern New Mexico city on the frontlines of the largest wildlife in state history.

Las Vegas Mayor Louie Trujillo said he hopes the president will visit the burn scars and see first-hand the flood danger still facing northern New Mexico as monsoon season approaches.

“I hope he takes the time to visit Las Vegas and to see the devastation that this fire has caused,” Trujillo said in an interview.

The president’s scheduled appearance comes as Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pushes the federal government to accept full responsibility for the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire, which began as two separate fires, each started by a U.S. Forest Service prescribed burn.

“The pain and suffering of New Mexicans caused by the actions of the U.S. Forest Service — an agency that is intended to be a steward of our lands — is unfathomable,” she said last week.

Biden called Lujan Grisham about two weeks ago and pledged the full support of the federal government as it battles the fires.

Thousands of New Mexicans have fled their homes since April amid a devastating, early start to the fire season.

The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire has burned hundreds of homes and triggered the evacuation of thousands of residents in northeastern New Mexico. It stretches across 316,971 acres from the Las Vegas area north into Taos County.

It’s about 62% contained, according to firefighters.

Trujillo, the Las Vegas mayor, a nonpartisan office, said northern New Mexicans deserve to hear from the president, especially as federal and local agencies continue to fight the flames and prepare for the aftermath.

The city’s source of drinking water, the Gallinas River, faces danger from flooding and broader damage to the watershed, he said.

“I think the people of New Mexico want to hear that the federal delegation is working hard to make things right,” Trujillo said of the president’s visit.

Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, said last week that the federal government faces significant legal liability — larger even than what it had in the infamous Cerro Grande Fire of 2000, which resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in damage in the Los Alamos area.

The Democratic members of New Mexico’s federal delegation — U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján and Reps. Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury — released a joint statement welcoming the president’s visit.

“We look forward to working with the White House to address the climate crisis driving these unprecedented wildfires, to address the federal wildfire practices that contributed to this disaster, and to do everything we can to make New Mexicans whole,” the Democrats said.

Republicans in the state Senate also issued a statement on Biden’s planned visit.

“Since the federal government is responsible for the largest wildfire in New Mexico history, it is only appropriate that the President would come to see the devastating damage for himself,” said Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell. “In addition to restitution, the people of our state need assurance that he is serious about changing how the federal government manages our forests.”

Even as the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire continues to burn, the state is also battling other fires, including:

— The Black Fire, now at 264,657 acres, burning in the Gila National Forest, west of Truth or Consequences. It’s about 29% contained.

— The Cerro Pelado Fire, at 45,605 acres, by the Valles Caldera National Preserve, roughly between Cochiti Lake and Jemez Springs. It’s 95% contained.

— Periodic fires in the Rio Grande bosque within Albuquerque, including a 30-acre fire last week along both sides of the river near Montaño NW.

The nation is bracing for a terrible fire season.

The number of acres burned across the United States is about 78% above the 10-year average, according to the White House, and much of the West, Plains and Texas remain in a historic drought.

Several of the largest fires now burning in the nation are in New Mexico, the White House said.

Biden receives regular briefings on the fires, according to the White House.

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