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FEMA changes wildfire compensation rules for New Mexicans affected by last year’s historic blaze

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced changes Monday to its wildfire compensation rules after a planned burn by the U.S. Forest Service last year exploded into the largest and most destructive blaze in New Mexico’s recorded history.

FEMA officials said they are expanding coverage for those affected by Hermit's Peak/Calf Canyon Fire for mental health treatment and reduced long-term property values, and removing the 25% cap on reforestation and revegetation costs, and on risk-reduction practices.

The changes stem from legislation that U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján and other members of New Mexico's congressional delegation helped get passed in 2022.

The legislation also established a claims office within FEMA that Luján said has secured $3.95 billion for New Mexico families and businesses affected by the wildfire.

“The federal government started these fires and now it has a moral obligation to help New Mexicans who were impacted,” Luján said in a statement Monday.

The Hermit's Peak/Calf Canyon Fire burned more than 533 square miles (2.5 square kilometers) in Taos, Mora and San Miguel counties between early April and late June of 2022.

Authorities said an improperly extinguished Forest Service pile burn operation rekindled and merged with another wildfire, destroying about 900 structures, including several hundred homes.