President Joe Biden on Saturday said the federal government is “covering 100 percent of the cost” for the response to a massive wildfire in New Mexico that was started by federal burns.
“I think we have a responsibility as a government to deal with the communities who are put in such jeopardy,” Biden said at the emergency operations center in Santa Fe, N.M. “And today I’m announcing the federal government is covering 100 percent of the cost of debris removal and emergency protective measures for the next critical months.”
The White House later released a statement announcing the president had amended the New Mexico Disaster Declaration to push the percentage of those costs to be covered by the federal government from 75 percent, set by the disaster declaration in May, to 100 percent “for the first 90 days of the incident period.”
The White House said that the 90-day coverage period is meant to serve as a “bridge” from emergency operations to the potential passage of the Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act, a piece of legislation that has not yet been approved by Congress.
If passed, the act would require the Federal Emergency Management System to create a claims office to provide full compensation to those who have been injured or suffered financial losses due to the fire.
“This additional support will help ensure that New Mexico has no financial limitations related to immediate lifesaving and life sustaining operations related to the ongoing wildfires, including urgent debris removal,” the White House said of Biden’s order.
This comes after the Forest Service last month said it was responsible for the two fires that merged last month to form the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire, which Biden emphasized in his address is the “largest, most destructive wildfire in America so far this year and the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history.”
The Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fires each formed as a result of escaped federal pile burns, Forest Service investigators determined last month.
Biden on Saturday acknowledged that the Forest Service has put a complete pause on prescribed burns, saying that “99.8% go as planned, but this time, tragically, it did not.”
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: CNN