State offers free debris removal for New Mexico fire victims

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MORA COUNTY, N.M. – The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire left a trail of debris in its wake. Most of that wreckage is still sitting out there – with property owners unsure of what to do with it.

Now, the state is giving new guidance and assurance that they will help every step of the way.

After returning to his home, New Mexico resident Toby Dolan said his family only found a few things that still resembled the things they once had.

“There’s no clear processes in what step to take next, and we’re not the first wildfire that’s hit New Mexico. It seems to me, someone should be here giving us direction on how to clean this up,” said Dolan. 

Dolan said even with some insurance coverage, it was no match for the tens of thousands it would cost to bring someone in to clean it up.

“We don’t want any waste to be disposed of on site, people burying, digging holes on their property and burying waste. We don’t want that. We don’t want waste being disposed of in any arroyos or waterways,” said Peter J. Garcia Sr., an environmental scientist with the New Mexico Environmental Department. 

Garcia Sr. said the state is now teaming with the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clean all up the debris with no out-of-pocket cost. 

Residents will have to opt-in allowing the government access to their property. It’s free for those with no debris removal insurance coverage. For those with it, that money has to be handed over.

“That portion of their policy, whatever it is, if it’s a percentage or a dollar amount, that portion has to be remitted from the property owner back to the county government. Because what we want to make sure is there’s no duplication of benefits,” said Garcia Sr. 

They’re asking people to get that paperwork in, so crews can get to work. They’re hoping to get started by the end of June.

It’s important to remember people will have to opt-in for the debris removal. If you do not want that service, then you are asked to opt-out – that means you’ll have to clean it up on your own, out of your own pocket, and the waste will have to be properly disposed of.

Forms are available at county government offices in Mora and San Miguel Counties and on the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Wildfire website. Property owners needing assistance completing these forms may contact the Fire Resource Hotline at 1-800-432-2080 or visit their county government offices.