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Gila National Forest wildfire largest in New Mexico history

Whitewater-Baldy fire

The wildfire burning in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest that has consumed over 170,000 acres is the largest in the state’s history and has prompted the governor to call in the National Guard and urge small businesses in the area to file for disaster aid.

The Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire, sparked by lightning strikes in the area during the week of May 21, has spread through dry brush, spurred by low humidity and winds. The blaze is located in the state’s remote mountainous southwestern corner and according to reports, hasn’t threatened heavily populated areas. State officials issued air quality alerts for communities as far away as Albuquerque, almost 170 miles away.

The fire surpassed the Los Conchas wildfire last June, which burned over 156,000 acres near Los Alamos National Laboratory and threatened stored nuclear material.  

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez called in over a dozen New Mexico National Guard troops to help secure the area around the Whitewater fire on May 27. She also asked New Mexico Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (DHSEM) secretary Greg Myers to travel to the area and assess any other ways the state could help protect lives and property.

The Federal Emergency Management Administration approved a fire management assistance grant (FMAG) for the state on May 26, according to the DHSEM.  It said FMAGs are designed to help pay for up to 75 percent of the cost of suppressing the fire, which  can include pre-positioning of resources, evacuations and sheltering, traffic control, fire equipment use and more, but does not cover costs for reimbursement of property damaged or destroyed by the fire.

“The Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire is burning in extremely steep and rugged terrain. The high winds, warm weather and dry conditions are contributing to the fire danger,” said New Mexico state forester Tony Delfin. “This grant from FEMA will help us pay for many of the costs associated with fire suppression.” 

On May 29, Martinez said small businesses affected in the area could apply for disaster loans through the Small Business Administration. She said Estimated Disaster Economic Injury Worksheet for Businesses forms were available through county emergency managers or on the DHSEM Web site.

“The Gila is one of our greatest treasures, and many businesses serve those who enjoy spending time there and engaging in an array of activities. As a result of this fire, small businesses are unquestionably feeling the impact, and I want to make sure that these businesses and their surrounding communities can take advantage of any assistance possible,” Governor Martinez said. “Once enough small businesses state their need and ask for help, I will be able to ask for

SBA assistance in the form of low-interest loans to help businesses and communities recover.”

SBA makes an Economic Injury Disaster Declaration upon the governor’s certification that at least five small businesses in a disaster area have suffered substantial economic injury as a result of a disaster and are in need of financial assistance not otherwise available, according to the governor’s office. Upon the approval of the SBA, Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) will be available through the Small Business Administration (SBA), it said.

 
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