FEMA urges Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon fire victims to file claims

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire is not something people in northern New Mexico will soon forget, especially those who lost everything in the fire.

KOB 4 spoke to FEMA officials who are helping fire victims get reimbursed for the damages.

The number one thing folks can do is file a claim. There are people in New Mexico answering questions and helping folks filling out forms.

Plus, the federal government has earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars to help rebuild, and all you have to do is claim it.

“It’s really important for claimants to share these stories, you know, for everyone to hear the true impacts that resonate with each of these impacted survivors,” said Paula Gutierrez, a claims office advocate. 

Stories like Jerry Gomez’s who was out of town when the fire destroyed the home he built for his family more than 30 years ago.

“My brother calls me and says, ‘Well, sorry brother, it’s gone.’ So what do you do, you know?” said Gomez.

While Gomez was able to rebuild with help from his neighbors, others like Micahlynn Kaza are still working to get the funding to move on. 

“I started photographing and videoing everything. Started writing my whole story of us finding this property and buying it, loosing it. Everything we were going through after we lost it,” said Kaza.

The stories from community members who have started working at FEMA to help their neighbors file claims.

“It was hard, especially when you get that reality, and it hits. It’s just like this is actually happening to me and a lot of people are like that in the community, and it does come up and this is the type of conversations we have you know? It will hit when we are going through the damages someone has, and you flash back and are like ‘I remember that day,’” said Deandra Montoya, a claims navigator. 

The work at the claims office has just begun, but they have already dispersed $37 million in compensation payments, and there is plenty more money where that comes from.

“The claims office anticipated dispersing over $100 million by Jan. 1 of 2024, and over $1 billion by Jan. 1, 2025,” said Gutierrez, a claims office advocate. 

FEMA has set up these claims offices in Mora, Las Vegas and Santa Fe. Plus, every Tuesday and Thursday night, they have community events where anyone can come in and ask questions about the claims process.

On Tuesdays, the “Ask an Advocate” event is from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Mora in the county commissioners chambers.

Then, on Thursdays, they are meeting at Highlands University’s Student Union Building in Room 321 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m..

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was at the Tuesday’s town hall, and she’s spending three nights in Mora, including Thursday night. 

Lujan Grisham is living in a small trailer home right now. She says she did it in solidarity with over 600 residents who have been displaced, and are still waiting to return home.

“Living in these trailers for a night, or a week, or even a month is a productive way to make sure people have professional safe shelter. But the people here in Mora have been living here for a year and a half,” said Lujan Grisham. 

The governor also wants the attorney general to look into scammers, and attorneys who may be taking advantage of fire victims.

There are reports of fake claims offices pretending to be FEMA, or people pressuring victims to sign up for legal representation to get their claim money.

FEMA said this week they will not reimburse people for hiring attorneys to get their claim money.

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