FACT SHEET: Biden administration responds to early New Mexico wildfires
Early-season wildfires in New Mexico and throughout the Southwest devastate communities and devastate landscapes. So far this year, the number of acres burned in the United States is about 78% above the 10-year average. Much of the West, Plains and Texas remain in a historic drought with above-average temperatures and normal rainfall, setting the stage for more large and dangerous wildfires this year. While the national fire readiness level for Wildland remains at level 2 (from 5), the Southwest region was raised to readiness level 4 on April 19th, the earliest date this has ever occurred. New Mexico has been hit particularly hard, with six of the nation’s top 10 major wildfires currently burning in the state, burning more than 250,000 acres. This has created an unprecedented situation in the state, with far-reaching implications for communities, families and livelihoods.
The Biden administration is taking immediate action to ensure that all applicable federal resources are mobilized to help New Mexico communities respond to and recover from these devastating wildfires. The President receives regular updates on the spread of the fires in New Mexico from his Homeland Security Advisor. On Wednesday, May 4, he approved a Major Disaster Statement for Colfax, Lincoln, Mora, San Miguel and Valencia counties in New Mexico to assist the state in responding to and recovering from multiple intense wildfires.
Robust wildfire response
The National Interagency Fire Center continues to provide resources to the area to address this early start of the region’s wildfire season, including fire crews, aircraft, engines and emergency management teams from the US Forest Service (USFS) and Department of the Interior (DOI). These federal firefighters joined state, local and tribal firefighters in New Mexico for a unified and coordinated response that has grown to nearly 2,700 personnel as of May 6
FEMA approved six Fire Management Assistance Grants in support of New Mexico this year. These funds will assist the state in containing, managing and controlling the fires, as well as providing funds for emergency response, including procuring equipment and supplies for responders, supporting evacuation needs such as traffic control and housing for residents, and providing resources to respond support and set up field camps and meals for the emergency services.
Throughout the response, the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in Los Alamos, New Mexico, has worked to keep facilities and employees safe, and is actively working with the surrounding community and responders. LANL has provided resources to assist the Los Alamos Fire Department and federal responders in protecting critical facilities. LANL also continues its ongoing efforts to mitigate the risk of wildfires through fuel reduction activities. In addition, for many years the Laboratory’s Wildland Fire team has reduced brushwood and other combustibles in the forests surrounding the Laboratory’s property, and the Laboratory has prepared to prevent the spread of fire on the Laboratory’s property.
support for communities
The President’s approval of a Major Disaster Declaration on May 4 provides additional federal funding to help communities recover from the effects of these fires. This assistance includes financial assistance for temporary and long-term housing, repairs and other urgent needs for people who have had to evacuate, and provides low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration to businesses and homeowners affected by the fires.
FEMA has provided meals, water and shelter for 30,000 people. In addition, the American Red Cross and New Mexico have set up shelters for residents displaced from their homes.
A federal coordinating officer is on site and works with the state to identify and address emerging or unmet needs. FEMA’s Incident Management Assistance Team is embedded within the State Emergency Operations Center to help coordinate all federal resources available to the state, and they continue to work with the state to conduct joint preliminary damage assessments that serve as the basis for the serve recovery planning. FEMA has deployed multilingual disaster survivor assistance teams on the ground, working directly with fire-affected New Mexico residents to ensure they have access to and can quickly register for government assistance.
Looking ahead, the southwest summer monsoon season and associated heavy rains may cause significant watershed from burned areas. These events can cause significant soil erosion, flooding and debris flows, affecting both natural resources and communities. Federal agencies are working with the state and local communities to anticipate and prepare for potential flooding and to support post-fire mitigation efforts. The USFS has established a statewide Postfire Response and Recovery Team with New Mexico, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Farm Bureau and other federal multi-agency partners to coordinate efforts and access to funding for the response, stabilization and recovery of the coordinate the environment.
DOI and USFS interagency Burned Area Emergency Response Teams have already been assigned to the New Mexico fires. The teams are made up of resource specialists who can determine, prescribe and implement emergency treatment needs to minimize threats to life or property or prevent further damage to natural and cultural resources on state lands. The assessments conducted by these teams will assist in the development of fire recovery plans and actions in coordination with the state.
The USDA has provided resources to assist farmers and ranchers whose land, crops, or livestock have been damaged or lost as a result of wildfires. These programs include the Livestock Indemnity Program; emergency aid for livestock, honey bees and farmed fish; Forage Disaster Program; and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program. The USDA also makes low-interest loans to help farmers and ranchers recover from production and physical losses and restart operations. Local USDA staff at District Service Centers near designated districts are available to help farmers and ranchers access this support.
The USDA also has programs to support mitigation and recovery, including an Environmental Quality Promotion Program to support immediate needs and long-term support for natural disaster recovery and water resource conservation, an Emergency Response Program to remediate disaster-damaged farmland, and an Emergency Forest Restoration Program to restore private forest areas. The USDA Watershed Protection Emergency Program can also help mitigate immediate threats to life and property posed by fires affecting a watershed.
The Biden administration will continue to work hard to ensure the federal government is doing everything it can to support New Mexicans who need assistance as a result of these early and extremely damaging wildfires.