BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham opened her Saturday afternoon press conference with an announcement that there are 20 active wildfires burning in 16 new Mexico Counties. She warned of a tough summer to come and the incredible amount of work the recovery from these fires will take.
“Half the state has a fire issue. Yesterday’s exceptionally strong winds, dry fuels and the extremely low humidity around the state resulted in multiple new fires sparking a total of more than 25,760 acres in one day. Yesterday we experienced a combination of conditions that is frankly unprecedented in New Mexico history. It is only April and yet we are seeing fire spread that we have only ever seen in this state and in many states in the Southwest in late May and June,” she said.
She said this means the risk season is incredibly dangerously early and some people have asked her whether or not this means that we won’t see the same in May and June.
“One is not related to the other. It means we have a longer, more dramatic and quite frankly more dangerous significant fire season ahead of us. Wind speeds of 74 miles per hour were recorded at Las Vegas Airport and atop Kachina Peak at the Taos Ski Valley, the wind speed exceeded 90 miles per hour,” Governor Lujan Grisham said. “Many of the new fires that started yesterday across the state, thank God, were immediately extinguished thanks to the efforts of out firefighters, first responders and trained responders in those communities.”
She noted that while temperatures had dropped Sunday, that in itself was not enough because the winds had not.
“We want a reprieve and we need it in order to battle risks that we are currently managing.” she said, adding that big fires can create their own atmospheric conditions.
“The truth is we can have any kind of weather changes related to these extremely fast-moving hot fires that create their own wind. So we are grateful for any better weather conditions, we are also cognizant this is going to be a tough long week and I want New Mexicans to be prepared for that,” the Governor said.
There are currently more than 1,000 firefighters working on fires statewide and the State Forestry Division has brought in fire engines and crews from as far away as Oregon to assist.
“We are in constant contact with FEMA. Had call with the White House today and should have a call with the entire congressional delegation on Monday. We need more federal bodies for firefighting, fire mitigation and public safety support on the ground in New Mexico. We will likely asked for 25 – that number is a bit fungible based on what happens over the next two days,” she said.
She predicted that there will be additional needs outside FEMA support because it doesn’t cover private property or many other needs she anticipates.
“So we’re going to talk about what strategies may or may not be available to the state so that I know with the legislature what financial strategies legally, ethically and responsibly we can take to make as many New Mexicans whole as we can, which will be our intent,” the Governor said.
She said there isn’t a complete account of the losses at this point and that the recovery effort is going to take an incredible amount of work.
“We will make it through this really challenging time. New Mexicans are resilient and we’re tough but I really do not want to minimize how dangerous the situation is and how dramatic it is. Even with the weather and even with all of the brave men and women who are on the front lines of all of these fires, it’s going to be a tough summer,” she said.