Biden approves disaster declaration for wildfire-hit New Mexico

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Biden on Wednesday approved a disaster declaration for parts of drought-parched New Mexico hit by wildfires and ordered federal aid be made available for recovery efforts, the White House said.

The rash of wildfires, which includes the biggest active blaze in the United States, have started earlier this year and are more widespread than normal due to climate change, according to scientists.

Federal funding will be made available for the northern counties of Mora and San Miguel where the second-largest wildfire in state history has burned hundreds of homes and structures and threatens the city of Las Vegas, New Mexico.

The president’s action also provides support to Lincoln County where two people died in April in a blaze in the mountain resort town of Ruidoso that destroyed over 200 homes.

Other counties covered in the declaration include Colfax and Valencia which also suffered wildfires in early April, a month earlier than normal, according to fire officials.

The decree provides grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster, according to a statement from the White House.

Winds dropped in Mora and San Miguel Counties on Wednesday, giving firefighters a chance to do controlled burns on the west side of Las Vegas to lower the amount of fuel the wildfire has should it approach the city.

To the north, firefighters were able to keep fire out of much of the village of Mora and create containment lines near the communities of Cleveland, Holman and Vallecitos.

Northern New Mexico has had strong winds for 24 out of the last 30 days, driving the so-called Calf Canyon Hermits Peak fire that has burned 160,104 acres (65,000 hectares).

The forecast is for calmer winds until Saturday when stronger winds return, challenging the containment lines firefighters have created with bulldozers and controlled burns, fire officials said.

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