New Mexico’s Devastating Wildfire: A Tragedy of Displacement, Environmental Damage, and Lost Way of Life

The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire in New Mexico has dealt a devastating blow to the residents of Mora County, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. The fire, which was ignited by a controlled burn gone wrong on April 6th, merged with another fire caused by smoldering roots from a previous controlled burn and quickly spread, engulfing millions of acres of forest and historic homes.

Displacement of Residents

The fire has displaced nearly 100 Mora County residents, including Benito Sanchez and his 100-year-old grandmother Tommie Carter. Despite receiving a $70,000 insurance claim, Sanchez was unable to buy a new home, leaving many displaced residents, descendants of Indigenous people or settlers who have lived in the region for generations, struggling to rebuild their lives.

Impact on the Environment and Livelihoods

The fire has had a profound impact on the environment in Mora County, leaving behind tens of millions of dead trees that pose a significant risk of starting another fire. The fire has also driven much of the local wildlife, including bears, buffaloes, foxes, and rabbits, to flee the burned-out territory, leaving local hunters without a food source. Loggers, ranchers, and farmers have also seen their livelihoods destroyed by the fire.

A Way of Life Lost

For generations, the Indigenous people and settlers in the remote Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico have lived off the land, hunting, collecting water, and building homes that were passed down through the family. They had a sacred relationship with the land, but much of that way of life has been lost forever due to the wildfire.

Financial Damage

The financial toll of the fire is still being calculated, but it is estimated that Mora County sustained $29 million in damage, with statewide losses totaling $189 million. Approximately 75 businesses were forced to close and an estimated 100 residents had to relocate.

Controlled Burns

The U.S. Forest Service had conducted the controlled burns with the aim of reducing the risk of wildfires, but the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire burned through more than 341,000 acres, torching 62 million trees, and destroying 220 structures.

Compensation for Damages

In June, a lawsuit was filed against the U.S. Forest Service seeking damages, but it was dismissed after the Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act was passed, providing compensation to those who suffered damages from the fire.