Nearly 1 year later, Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire victims still waiting for FEMA assistance

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Thursday will mark one year since the prescribed burn on Hermits Peak was ignited, and erupted out of control – causing one of the worst natural disasters the state has ever seen.

Thousands of New Mexicans are still displaced and waiting on help.

FEMA is just weeks away from opening offices to start helping people face-to-face from Santa Fe to Mora.

Nearly $4 billion is going to go to the people that need it most, and the process to get that money into the hands of people that need it is just starting.

Some who have lost their homes are asking questions like why is this taking so long? And will this program truly help people that live off the land? 

Toby Dolan lost not only his home, but his mom, and grandma’s home that used to sit overlooking Hermit’s Peak. Now, he has questions about the promised federal assistance.

“It almost has felt like to us that they’re inventing the wheel in this deal, and I know that’s not the case ’cause it was done in Cerro Grande-something similar. But it does feel like they’ve started from scratch almost instead of having a procedure in-place,” said Dolan. 

KOB 4 took his question to the FEMA director in-charge of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon relief effort: Angela Gladwell.

“It’s important to recognize that the program that did exist was over 20 years ago,” said Gladwell. “Although we are using the framework. So the framework of the rule we put in place is very much the same with Cerro Grande, how we’re actually implementing the program is fundamentally different.”

Gladwell is not from New Mexico, but she has learned a lot, especially about the people that live here.

“The population who’s been impacted by this fire – although they were in New Mexico – is fundamentally different,” Gladwell said. “Overall, who they are and how these loses have affected them is very, very different.”

Public comment is still getting considered, but Gladwell points to people like Tyler White who said:

“I am going to add my voice to the chorus here. You cannot use the Cerro Grande Fire as a template for our community. Los Alamos had a 25% cap on landscaping recoverable damages. We don’t landscape. We farm. We ranch. We live with our land.”

“I absolutely understand the concern,” said Gladwell. 

Gladwell says special considerations for the special needs of these communities are happening.

“We still need to recruit and hire and train people. We still need to identify facilities and build them out,” she said. “All of those things still have to happen as a brand-new program, and those are the things that take time.”

But for Dolan and his displaced grandma, relief and answers cannot come soon enough.

“The thing to think about is in the context of disaster recovery and in the context of building new federal programs, this is actually moving very quickly,” said Gladwell.