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New Mexico Wildfires Give Rise to Public Health Emergency

New Mexico Wildfires Give Rise to Public Health Emergency

Wildfires spanning more than 350 square miles are wreaking havoc across New Mexico. The largest among them is the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak blaze, which started last month as two separate fires. Hermits Peak initially began as a prescribed burn: a fire set under specific conditions for the purpose of forest management and restoration. By late April, however, it had spread out of control and soon merged with Calf Canyon to the east of Santa Fe, according to The New York Times.

Exacerbated by dry air, strong winds, and higher than usual temperatures, the flames have proved particularly difficult for firefighters to wrangle. The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire has now scorched hundred of homes and businesses, and over 200,000 acres of land considered sacred to the local communities. Many families have been forced to evacuate the area.

“In those areas a lot of people are very proud of the wilderness, and their animals and the memories of their family,” said Travis Martinez, a spokesman for the Mora County Sheriff’s Office. “The culture and the heritage that has been built here through hundreds of years — communities are strong.”

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra declared New Mexico a public health emergency earlier this week. As a result, those on Medicare and Medicaid will now have access to certain treatments regardless of whether or not they meet a number of requirements that would usually apply.

The cost of combatting the wildfires has already amounted to $65 million, according to the Associated Press. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said that number could easily reach billions of dollars if you take into account the funds needed to rebuild homes and restore forests once the fires are out.

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