Officials warn evacuated homeowners about danger of sorting through fire debris

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MORA COUNTY, N.M. – The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire has burned at least 170 homes so far, and a lot of people want to see what’s left behind. But there’s a new warning from the state to evacuated homeowners, who are allowed to return and assess the damage. 

New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management are urging homeowners not to clean up the debris themselves.  Not only is it unsafe, but it could jeopardize federal and state clean-up assistance.

“There are some toxic chemicals and the dust, the ash chemicals like lead and copper and mercury and asbestos. Just some of the ash in the dust you can inhale that stuff it can get on your skin, and it can be very dangerous,” said Marisa Maez spokesperson for the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. 

But if you choose to search through fire debris and start the cleanup process yourself – the state says you should take precautions to protect yourself, like wearing an N-95 mask.

“We can’t stop you from going and sifting through the debris and some of the wildfire ash, that may be left after the fire comes through and damages or destroys a home. But for those who are able to be let back in, what we’re asking is to please play incredibly careful, and we would love for you to please refrain from doing it all together,” Maez said.

Maez says starting the fire debris removal process on your own could make you ineligible for cleanup assistance.

“Until the proper authorities and a plan has been put together for homeowners, it could jeopardize if they go in on their own and try to sift through this stuff it could potentially jeopardize eligibility for future federal or state debris removal assistance,” said Maez. 

Meanwhile, authorities are working on a plan to help property owners remove fire debris and once that plan is ready to go they’ll release it to the public.