Rural and tribal leaders receive update on wildfires at Roundhouse summit

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SANTA FE, N.M. — Leaders from rural New Mexico got an update on the wildfires devastating small communities across the state and how they can recover from the damage.

The New Mexico Rural Summit is taking place Thursday and Friday at the Roundhouse.

“These are catastrophic humanitarian crises,” said Stephanie Garcia Richard, New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands.

During a panel discussion Thursday afternoon, rural, frontier and tribal leaders got an update on the wildfires ravaging the state that have burned 300,000 acres in northern New Mexico and forced about 15,000 families from their homes.

“The fire is one sort of emergency situation that all our resources are on the ground right now to deal with that,” Garcia Richard said. “But once the last flame has been extinguished the true work actually then begins. Because living through forest fires in this state, we know the aftermath we know what’s next.”

 The discussion also centered around the challenges communities and property owners in rural New Mexico face once the fires are out and the recovery process begins.

“For my community, it’s not just going to be loss of mountains and views, it’s going to be a loss of a lifestyle,” said Roger Gonzales, president of HELP New Mexico. “Most of those families there depend on the forest to sustain their livelihood, depend on the cattle and the grazeland, ecotourism, who’s going to go back to see the ashtray, unfortunately. That’s the reality that’s going to be out our windows.”    

Members of the panel pointed out property owners will need help applying for state and federal assistance and in some cases don’t have the necessary documents needed to prove ownership for inherited properties. They also addressed the lack of services for people who chose to stay behind and protect their homes in evacuation areas.

 “The difficulty we have in Mora County right now is there is food there right now, but as Roger said, people’s food stores are going to be gone, they have spoiled, there is no clean drinking water there right now. That’s a travesty, in the United States of America that we have an entire county without good drinking water. And that was a lack of planning. The water being turned off and knowing that the water pumps were going to be turned off without having appropriate generators available there was a lack of planning,” said Antonia Roybal Mack, an attorney and advocate.