“We have a responsibility to help this state recover, to help the families who have been here for centuries…,” Biden said after arriving in Santa Fe. Air Force One flew over the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire before touching down, and the president called the amount of territory affected “astounding.”
“We’ll do whatever it takes, as long as it takes,” he later added.
President Biden entered New Mexico’s emergency operations center at about 4:30 p.m. and thanked the staff. Their work saves lives, he said, and it isn’t easy to do.
The president added that it was important for states to support each other in times of disaster. He said he and members of Congress understand the federal government must be more agile as it helps states recover.
He said his administration is allowing 100% reimbursement of costs where it has authority to do so.
With a giant fire map projected on the wall behind him, Biden spoke softly but grew animated when discussing what it’s been like in his career to address the families of firefighters who have died on duty.
Biden said the area damaged by New Mexico’s largest-ever wildfire looked like a “moonscape.”
President Biden said the federal government would pick up 100% of the cost of “protective measures” and similar costs required to address the fire.
The president said FEMA will make phone calls to anyone who has been denied assistance and walk them through their next steps.
Air Force One touched down at Kirtland Air Force Base at about 1:45 p.m.
Biden was greeted by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and the state’s Democratic members of congress.
Kirtland officials, State Police, Albuquerque and Rio Rancho Police and Bernalillo County deputies also welcomed the president.
The president’s motorcade departed the runway at 2:05 p.m. Lujan Grisham joined the president for the drive to Santa Fe, where he will be briefed on what is shaping up to be one of New Mexico’s worst fire seasons. Hundreds of homes have already been destroyed and thousands of New Mexicans have had to flee their homes.
Albuquerque police are warning drivers to expect delays on Interstate 25, noting that it will be shut down twice today as the president travels through Albuquerque to and from Santa Fe. They did not give specific times for the closures.
The Governor’s Office estimates that the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire has damaged or destroyed about 1,200 homes. Firefighting costs to date exceed $206 million.
U.S. Forest Service crews ignited a prescribed burn on April 6 west of Las Vegas. But erratic winds fanned flames outside the project boundary. By the afternoon, the agency declared the incident the Hermits Peak wildfire.
The Calf Canyon Fire started as a Forest Service pile burn from late January that reignited months later and even after several snowstorms.
Both fires merged in late April and have now grown to more than 320,000 acres.
The Forest Service has paused prescribed burns on forest lands.
In early May, Biden approved a major disaster declaration so that people affected by several New Mexico wildfires could begin getting federal assistance.
Several federal agencies are offering financial compensation for lost property and funding for temporary housing.
This year’s fire season has been early and destructive. More than 608,000 acres have burned across New Mexico this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.