Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gathered with elementary and high school students, elected officials and others Monday to discuss the devastating Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire complex that ripped through northern New Mexico earlier this year. The wildfire burned thousands of acres of forest, destroyed hundreds of homes and left the area susceptible to flash floods.
“For me, (today) was one of great inspiration, great information and great admiration for the people who came and talked to us,” Pelosi said after a discussion in Albuquerque with people directly affected by the fire.
Pelosi and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-N.M., told those who gathered at the event they were expecting a forthcoming announcement about additional resources available to restore the fire’s damage, but the exact details weren’t known yet.
The Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fires started as Forest Service burns, but the blazes broke containment lines and later merged with each other, creating the largest fire in New Mexico history. Both Pelosi and Leger Fernández said the federal government needs to fully fund relief efforts from those blazes.
“There is a recognition that this was avoidable, and that makes it shameful. But that makes it all the more reason for us to learn from it immediately,” Pelosi said. “Today was a moment … to hear the pain that was caused by the loss that came with all of that trauma and the impact that (the fire) has on our children.”
Leger Fernández said she will continue to work so New Mexico doesn’t have to match any percentage of federal funding for fire relief.
“We cannot have matches when you have destroyed (our) livelihood,” she said.
Mora County Commissioner Veronica Serna said it was important for the speaker to hear from younger students in northern New Mexico. She pointed out that they had two years of their education uprooted by the COVID-19 pandemic only to have the fires start toward the end of last school year. Now, northern New Mexico residents are facing flooding, washed-out roads and other infrastructure problems.
“We need to rebuild our forests, we need to rebuild for the children. To rebuild our communities. We’ve lost so much, we want to bring our people back home,” Serna said. “How are we going to do that? It’s not happening fast enough.”
In addition to the roundtable discussion with people affected by the fires, Pelosi was also in town to fundraise for New Mexico’s three U.S. House races.
On Sunday night, Pelosi was scheduled to attend an event hosted by Albuquerque attorney Randi McGinn to raise money for the three Democratic candidates: Leger Fernández, Rep. Melanie Stansbury and candidate Gabe Vasquez.
Tickets were going for $600 to $8,700 dollars.
Pelosi said she didn’t want to talk politics at the roundtable discussion, but she pointed out that 100% of congressional Democrats and no Republicans supported a the Inflation Reduction Act, which contained funding to address climate change, drought and other factors connected with wildfires.
“I don’t want this to be viewed in a partisan way. I will say, though, that just people can draw their own conclusions,” Pelosi said. “It’s not a question of partisanship. It’s a question of making sure whoever you want to vote for knows that you’re paying attention. And what it is that you care about.”