Luján, Heinrich, Leger Fernández Introduce Legislation to Help New Mexicans Recover from Cerro Pelado Fire
Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representative Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.) introduced the Cerro Pelado Fire Assistance Act to provide financial compensation for New Mexicans impacted by the Cerro Pelado Fire which was caused by the U.S. Forest Service. The bill would require FEMA to establish a Cerro Pelado Fire Claims Office to compensate those who suffered personal injury, property losses, business and financial losses resulting from the Cerro Pelado Fire.
In April 2022, the Cerro Pelado Fire burned over 45,000 acres and destroyed 10 homes and other structures in Sandoval and Los Alamos Counties. Over a year later, in July 2023, the U.S. Forest Service announced that the Cerro Pelado fire “was caused by a holdover fire from the Pino West Piles Prescribed Fire, a debris pile burn.”
“Last year marked one of the most devastating wildfire seasons in New Mexico history. The Cerro Pelado Fire, through no fault of New Mexicans, was caused by the federal government and burned thousands of acres. This is the third wildfire caused by the federal government just last year,”said Senator Luján. “Now, Congress must do right by New Mexicans and provide them the relief they need to recover. Importantly, this bill will not interfere with the work of the Hermit’s Peak Claims Office, or redirect funding provided by the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act that I passed into law.”
“The Cerro Pelado Fire Assistance Act will help New Mexico rebuild from last year’s fire,” said Senator Heinrich. “As we continue to repair the damage from this escaped prescribed fire, I will also keep holding the Forest Service accountable for rebuilding the public’s trust.”
“A few months ago, we learned that the Forest Service was responsible for the 2022 Cerro Pelado fire. This fire burned over 45,000 acres of our beautiful land. It destroyed ranches and homes. The flooding after the fire destroyed private and tribal lands and watersheds. It forced multiple evacuation orders and brought pain to our communities,” said Rep. Leger Fernández. “I’m introducing the Cerro Pelado Fire Assistance Act to compensate survivors of this Forest Service-caused disaster; this is what justice looks like. ”
This bill would require FEMA to hire navigators, advocates, and Tribal consultation personnel separate from the employees hired for the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Claims Office. The Cerro Pelado Fire Assistance Act would also require its own compensation fund and would be prohibited from using Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act compensation funds. Moreover, this bill would not interrupt any pending claims with the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon Claims Office.
Allowable damages under the Cerro Pelado Fire Assistance Act:
- Loss of property, including: an uninsured or underinsured property loss; a decrease in the value of real property; damage to physical infrastructure; a cost resulting from lost Tribal subsistence from hunting, fishing, firewood gathering, timbering, grazing, or agricultural activities conducted on land damaged by the fire; a cost of reforestation or revegetation on Tribal or non-Federal land;
- Business loss, to include: damage to tangible assets or inventory; business interruption losses; overhead costs; and employee wages for work not performed;
- Financial loss, to include: increased mortgage interest costs; in insurance deductible; a temporary living or relocation expense; lost wages or personal income; emergency staffing expenses; debris removal and other cleanup costs; a premium for flood insurance; and costs for efforts to reduce the risk of wildfire, flood, or other natural disaster in the counties specified in the major disaster declaration; and,
- Any other damages that the FEMA Administrator determines to be appropriate for inclusion as property, business, or financial loss.
Full text of the legislation is available HERE.