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PRESS RELEASE: Wildfire Victim Heartbreak, FEMA Failures Take Focus on Two-Year Anniversary of New Mexico Wildfire

Apr 9, 2024

Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon wildfire victims commemorated second anniversary of fire with documentary screening and discussion about path forward for recovery process

Victims were joined by NM Lt. Governor Howie Morales, former NM Attorney General Hector Balderas, and FEMA Assistant Administrator Colt Hagmaier

LAS VEGAS, NM (April 9, 2024) – The Coalition for Fire Fund Fairness – a grassroots coalition of victims of the 2022 Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon wildfire in Northern New Mexico – commemorated the second anniversary of the devastating wildfire on April 8th with a screening of “Mora is Burning” and a panel discussion featuring NM Lt. Governor Howie Morales, FEMA Assistant Administrator Colt Hagmaier, and victims of the fire.


Close to two hundred people attended the event, in person and virtually. Former NM Attorney General Hector Balderas gave opening remarks and the panel discussion was moderated by Source New Mexico reporter Patrick Lohmann.


“I am glad to see FEMA is here acknowledging the mistakes that were made and apologizing for them,” said NM Lt. Governor Howie Morales. “It is absolutely critical that we have a new claims director who understands New Mexicans and understands the generations of livelihoods that were lost, and that we have a person who calls New Mexico home. Likewise, we fully support the recent opinion of Attorney General Torrez and we must make sure that people are compensated for damages beyond just physical property damage. Not only are such damages allowable under New Mexico law, but we know that families are going to live with these hardships for years to come, if not for a lifetime.”


“It’s been two years since this community was ravaged by the most devastating wildfire in New Mexico history,” said former NM Attorney General Hector Balderas. “Tragically, this catastrophe has turned into an ongoing nightmare for thousands of Northern New Mexicans who have yet to receive even a dime of relief, even though Congress set aside nearly $4 billion in federal assistance. I am hopeful that FEMA will take this opportunity to reset its operations, appoint a new claims director who is familiar with New Mexico law, and start processing claims to the fullest extent allowable.”


Congress passed the Hermit’s Peak Fire Assistance Act in September 2022, allocating $3.95 billion in relief funding for wildfire victims and appointing FEMA to manage the claims process. However, months of mismanagement, bureaucratic red tape, and unexplained delays have curtailed the recovery process. To date, only about 10% of the relief fund has been dispersed, and thousands of victims continue to wait for responses to their claims.


“We keep hearing that the intent of this $4 billion compensation fund was to make us 100% whole, but that simply has not been the reality on the ground here,” said wildfire victim Toby Dolan. “We lost three homes in the fire – mine and my wife’s, my mother’s, and my grandmother’s. We filed our notice of loss early on and it was seven months before it was even acknowledged. FEMA announced its rules for processing claims but has completely ignored them every step of the way. How are we to have any faith and trust that they’re going to do right by us? Enough is enough.”


The Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon wildfire – the largest in New Mexico history – was triggered on April 6, 2022 when the U.S. Forest Service lost control of a prescribed burn in the area. The blaze burned more than 330,000 acres and caused over 25,000 people to flee their homes, many of whom remain displaced to this day.


“All of us have felt heartbreak, anger, and frustration. We lost everything. Our community has been torn apart. It’s so easy to lose hope under these circumstances,” said wildfire victim Yolanda Cruz. “We could spend all day talking about the past and FEMA’s failures, but that will not fix anything. We want to move forward, and we are hopeful that FEMA will get its act together so we can finally rebuild our lives and start to recover.”


FEMA Assistant Administrator Colt Hagmaier apologized for FEMA’s delays and missteps, promising to continue to make improvements to the claims process.


“I don’t know if anyone has ever apologized to you, but I will tell you that I’m sorry,” said Colt Hagmaier, FEMA Assistant Administrator. “I’m sorry that things have taken as long as they have. There have been many problems… as evidenced by the testimonies here. We are still learning, and we are doing everything we can to improve.”


“We will never stop fighting for justice for the victims of this horrific fire,” said Manny Crespín, Jr., founder of CFFF. “I want to acknowledge the recent statements of encouragement and solidarity from Sen. Heinrich, Sen. Lujan, and Rep. Leger Fernández. Their support remains crucial in helping us secure rightful and fair compensation for all that was lost. While the road to recovery remains long, I am more hopeful than ever that we are on the right track, and that our voices are finally being heard. Adelante mi familia y amigos!”


Last week, CFFF released a new video featuring a testimonial from Hermit’s peak survivor Cody Rivera. For more information about CFFF and the impact of the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, please visit



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