FEMA begins accepting $2.5 billion in aid requests | community

fire debris

A house burned down by the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire. Pictured Monday 12th September.

Victims of the largest fire in New Mexico history can submit applications today to receive a portion of the $2.5 billion allocated by Congressional action at the end of September.

The Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon fire spiraled out of control due to two misdirected, prescribed burns ignited by the federal government that merged and then destroyed more than 1,000 buildings and charred more than 530 square miles in northern New Mexico.

To compensate fire victims for their many losses, Congress passed the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act, authorizing $2.5 billion to be spent on victims.

It requires the Federal Office for Disaster Control to set up a new body to process claims for damages.

Today, a FEMA official announced that the agency is beginning to accept public comment about the rules it will use to determine who gets how much aid. The agency will hold four public meetings through mid-January.

It will also begin accepting “Notice of Loss” forms from fire victims, which the official said is the first step in getting paid by the program.

The Notice of Loss form, which is expected to be available here today on FEMA’s website, is “a way to raise your hand and show interest in beginning the claim process,” said Angela Gladwell, a FEMA officer and director of the newly created Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Claims Office, in an interview with reporters Monday.

There is no cap on the amount of assistance an individual can receive, unlike the past payments FEMA has made to fire victims.

In fact, the $2.5 billion is intended to fully compensate fire victims for their financial losses, including lost homes and burned property, but also damages such as lost business revenue, new flood insurance premiums, mental health payments and more.

Gladwell said Monday she hopes the agency will begin issuing the first checks to discharged survivors “sometime in early 2023.”

“One thing is important to emphasize,” she said. “It will take time to build up our operations.”

At a recent meeting at City Hall with survivors of the fire, many residents said they were grateful for the prospect of healing through a program like the one passed by Congress. But they also desperately needed immediate help, as winter was approaching and many were still looking for shelter or ways to rebuild.

After the law was passed in late September, FEMA had 45 days to issue draft rules for the new program, which is much quicker than the agency would normally have to build a whole new office, Gladwell said. The program is modeled after the Cerro Grande Fire Assistance Act of 2000. That was the last time an escaped federal government-mandated burn caused a devastating conflagration. That was at Los Alamos.

Gladwell urged the public to weigh the new rules, which can be found here, as she said the agency will consider adapting them to the needs of victims of this particular fire.

“We will make any necessary adjustments,” she said, “based on the comments we receive on the rules.”