For Immediate Release:
December 28, 2022
Contact: Jerri Mares – (505) 321-4372
ALBUQUERQUE—Today, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced that his office filed comments on the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act Regulations that were recently promulgated by the federal government. The Attorney General’s comments strongly suggest changes be made to the regulations to address concerns with FEMA’s appointed claims manager, limitations on damages, and the lack of a clear appellate process.
Specifically, AG Balderas requests that FEMA appoint an independent claims manager with experience practicing law in New Mexico to oversee the process of reviewing New Mexico’s claims for losses and to provide a clear appellate process. Claims for damages arising from the wildfires will be assessed under New Mexico state law, and a background in New Mexico law will be imperative to properly assessing and compensating New Mexico and its citizens for any losses stemming from the Hermit’s Peak or Calf Canyon wildfires. Any disagreement with the decision of the claims manager are appealable, but the Attorney General determined the regulations weren’t clear on how the appeal process worked and requested that the appeal process be defined.
“We’re taking action today to begin recovery from a tragic wildfire that never should have occurred, and we are fighting for the federal government to acknowledge the gaps in the FEMA process that have historically ignored the unique needs of communities,” said Attorney General Balderas.
AG Balderas has strongly suggested that the regulations account for the uniqueness of the region and remove financial barriers to allow for all claimants to be compensated for all of their losses, including the costs of assessing and estimating the damages. Unlike the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire, the Hermit’s Peak and Calf Canyon fires have resulted in significant tree and erosion losses, and New Mexico law has previously allowed for recovery of the full value of any trees destroyed on their property.
Additionally, the Attorney General filed a “notice of loss” to seek compensation for billions of dollars in damages suffered by local and state government agencies resulting from the fires. This is the first step in the legal process for filing the State’s claims against the federal government.
The devastating wildfire was caused by a botched “controlled fire” by the U.S. Forest Service which has admitted negligence for starting the prescribed burn. The Forest Service’s internal review admitted that the agency used outmoded modeling and failed to account for several factors when they chose to ignite the prescribed burn, including prolonged drought, steep terrain, and unpredictable winds.
A copy of the comments is attached.