As massive wildfires have forced 7,000 homes to evacuate, New Mexico is poised to become the first state to ever receive a Presidential Disaster Declaration while the emergency is still ongoing.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the request in a Tuesday briefing and said she expects the White House to approve the declaration soon.
The declaration would “unlock nearly unlimited resources” for individuals, communities and ecosystems affected by the fires, Lujan Grisham said.
This type of declaration is usually delivered after a fire is extinguished.
“I’m unwilling to wait,” Lujan Grisham said. “I have … people evacuated, I have families who don’t know what the next day looks like. I have families who are trying to navigate their children, their healthcare resources (and) figure out their livelihoods, and they’re in every single little community. And it must feel to them like they are out there on their own. Well, you’re not.”
The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire has grown to more than 145,000 acres and is 20% contained.
Fire crews were working Tuesday morning to keep the nation’s biggest wildfire away from Mora and areas west of Las Vegas.
About 6,000 homes were evacuated due to the fire.
At least 166 homes have been destroyed in San Miguel County.
Lujan Grisham said that about $29 million has been spent on the northern New Mexico wildfires to date, with an additional $2 million being spent each day.
More than 100 National Guardsmen are helping deliver water and evacuate residents.
The Hermits Peak wildfire began as a U.S. Forest Service prescribed burn in early April.
The governor said agencies “need new rules about prescribed burns.”
“This isn’t our first situation where the federal government put us in harm’s way,” Lujan Grisham said.
In 2000, the Cerro Grande fire started as a prescribed burn. The blaze torched about 43,000 acres in and around Los Alamos, destroyed 235 homes and caused $1 billion in damage.
Lujan Grisham said she expects that in addition to the disaster declaration, New Mexico could receive “direct investments” through federal legislation for this year’s fires.
About 800 homes have been evacuated because of the Cooks Peak Fire in Mora and Colfax counties. No structures have been destroyed.
At least 200 homes were evacuated because of the Cerro Pelado Fire east of Jemez Springs, and at least three homes were destroyed.
Evacuation shelters are set up in Las Vegas, Taos and Peñasco.
Nearly 500 people are sheltering in Glorieta, and Santa Rosa has opened a shelter.
The governor said the state is identifying more potential shelter spaces.