Washington: US President Joe Biden declared the raging wildfires lasting for weeks in the state of New Mexico “a major disaster”, unlocking millions of dollars in relief for affected individuals and local recovery efforts.
“A major disaster exists in the State of New Mexico,” Xinhua news agency quoted the White House as saying in a statement late Wednesday.
Federal aid can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help local residents and business owners recover from the damage of the wildfires, said the statement.
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham requested the presidential disaster declaration on Tuesday.
“I have 6,000 people evacuated, I have families who don’t know what the next day looks like,” said Lujan Grisham.
Seven wildfires are currently raging in New Mexico, the most in any state, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
One of the fires, the Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak fire, started in mid-April as two large fires and merged more than a week ago in northern New Mexico, where strong winds lasted for 24 out of the last 30 days.
The fire now has burned more than 160,000 acres and hundreds of structures, authorities said.
Furthermore, over 15,000 homes could be threatened this week if the Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak fire, the second-largest fire in New Mexico in at least 30 years, continues to grow, said a CNN report, citing the Southwest Incident Management Team.
About 300,000 acres of land have burned across New Mexico so far this year, more than the past two full years combined, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said.
The situation is “a long-term event”, San Miguel and Mora counties in northern Mexico said in a joint release on Tuesday.
“We don’t anticipate having ‘control’ of this fire any time soon.”
The wildfire season in the region normally starts in May or June but this year is dangerously early due to dire fire weather and ongoing megadrought leaving no moisture in the soil.
The current wildfires in New Mexico began on April 5, according to the White House statement.
On April 23, the Governor said that “half the state has a fire issue” since more than 20 wildfires were burning in at least 16 of the state’s 33 counties, fuelled by gusty winds and drought conditions.