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Biden faces fire and anger during New Mexico visit

SANTA FE, NM (AP) – United States (US) President Joe Biden visited New Mexico yesterday to talk about his administration’s efforts to tackle wildfires as residents smoulder with anger over how federal officials allowed planned burns to spread out of control, leading to the largest blaze in recorded state history.

The fire has been contained on several fronts, but is still burning amid dangerously hot and dry conditions. It’s destroyed more than 430 homes across 1,300 square kilometres since early April, according to federal officials.

Evacuations have displaced thousands of residents from rural villages with Spanish-colonial roots and high poverty rates, while unleashing untold environmental damage. Fear of flames is giving way to concern about erosion and mudslides in places where superheated fire penetrated soil and roots.

The blaze is the latest reminder of Biden’s concern about wildfires, which are expected to worsen as climate change continues, and how they’ll strain resources needed to fight them.

“These fires are blinking ‘code red’ for our nation,” Biden said last year after stops in Idaho and California. “They’re gaining frequency and ferocity.”

US President Joe Biden speaks at the Los Angeles Port. PHOTO: AP

In New Mexico, investigators have tracked the two source fires to burns that were set by federal forest managers as preventative measures. A group of Mora County residents sued the US Forest Service this week in an effort to obtain more information about the government’s role.

Ralph Arellanes of Las Vegas, New Mexico, said many ranchers of modest means appear unlikely to receive compensation for uninsured cabins, barns and sheds that were razed by the fire.

“They’ve got their day job and their ranch and farm life. It’s not like they have a big old house or hacienda – it could be a very basic home, may or may not have running water,” said former wildland firefighter and chairman for a confederation of Hispanic community advocacy groups Arellanes.

“They use it to stay there to feed and water the cattle on the weekend. Or maybe they have a camper. But a lot of that got burned.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved 890 disaster relief claims worth USD2.7 million for individuals and households.

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