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We still have a long way to go

Dear Friend,
I will never forget when fire officials reported the official start of the worst wildfire in our state’s history—the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire—two years ago now. The destruction from the fire and the floods that followed continues to impact many New Mexicans to this day. 
I am committed to holding federal agencies accountable for delivering the compensation and justice that New Mexicans deserve in the wake of this disaster and for learning from the mistakes that fueled the fire in the first place. I reflected on that ongoing work in the Las Vegas Optic column below. 
I want all New Mexicans to know that I will keep fighting to deliver the resources our communities need to recover and rebuild.
United States Senator

By U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich
This month, we mark two years since the worst fire in our state’s history. 
The Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses. The fire, and the flooding that followed, displaced thousands of New Mexicans for weeks and months on end. In a matter of months, this catastrophe wiped away generations of history and uprooted families from their communities. Some are still not able to return.
Two years later, many New Mexicans have yet to receive the relief and compensation they’re owed from the federal government to make a full recovery. This is simply unacceptable.
In the immediate aftermath of the fire, I fought hard alongside Senator Ben Ray Luján and Representatives Teresa Leger Fernández and Melanie Stansbury to ensure the federal government followed through on its moral obligation to compensate New Mexicans impacted by this devastation. 
Senator Luján and I talked to every single senator who would listen to make sure we had the votes to pass the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act. Despite Republican opposition, we were able to pass our legislation, with President Biden signing it into law in September 2022. It was a big win, but it was also just the first step in a long process to deliver the justice that New Mexicans deserve.     
To date, we have secured $3.95 billion through this law to help New Mexico families and communities recover and rebuild. But as many have experienced directly, the process to access this federal relief and compensation for losses has been difficult to navigate and painfully inefficient.
It’s why I have continuously pressed state and federal officials to get the resources that we secured in Congress out the door immediately. 
Over the last year, I helped lead our Congressional Delegation in demanding that FEMA end its prolonged delays in standing up the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon (HPCC) Claims Office. And after FEMA took so long to open the Claims Office, I joined our Congressional Delegation to introduce the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Claims Extension Act, which would extend the deadline an individual can file a claim with the Claims Office from this coming November to the end of 2027.
I am optimistic about FEMA’s recent progress, which includes approving more than 2,000 claims worth more than $465 million since the HPCC Claims Office opened last fall—most of this in just the last few months. And earlier this week, FEMA also heeded our calls to expedite the claims process by opening a newly expanded Claims Office behind the Mora County Courthouse
If you were impacted by the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, I encourage you to please call the HPCC Claims Office Helpline at 505-995-7133, Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. or to visit any of the three HPCC Claims Offices that are now open in Mora, Las Vegas, and Santa Fe. I’m hopeful these expanded, on-the-ground operations will help more families in Northern New Mexico finally access the compensation they were promised. 
Still, it’s clear: We have a long way to go to do right by all of the New Mexico families whose lives were upended two years ago. 
Part of this must include holding the Forest Service accountable for learning from the series of preventable errors that led up to not only the two escaped fires that started the combined Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, but also the leftover burn pile that started the Cerro Pelado Fire in the Jemez Mountains. Moving forward with transparency and accountability is the only way to rebuild the public’s trust.
As we confront a drier and warmer climate that makes our forests more vulnerable, the Forest Service has a responsibility to use the best science and every tool available to reduce fuel loads and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires. That includes the responsible use of prescribed fires and active forest management.
It’s crucial the Forest Service continues its work to update its prescription models and management tools and ensure proper safeguards are in place to prevent this type of disaster from occurring ever again. New Mexicans know all too well that the stakes are too high to make any future mistakes. 
As our communities continue to rebuild, I want all New Mexicans to know that I will leave no stone unturned in making sure that every person impacted by the fire and subsequent floods is made whole again. If there is any way that I can be of assistance to you or your family, please call my office at (505) 346-6601 or visit my website at Heinrich.Senate.Gov.