County seeks wildfire grant to recoup expenses

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Las Conchas: Funds are available to offset costs incurred

By Carol A. Clark

The funding process for a fire mitigation grant is underway to assist Los Alamos County in offsetting expenses incurred during last summer’s Las Conchas Fire.

“The majority of the fire was on forest service land and adding up the losses for Los Alamos County, Sandoval County and a piece of Rio Arriba County did not reach the threshold for a Presidential Disaster Grant under the Stafford Act,” Emergency Management Coordinator Philmont Taylor said. “However, we do meet the requirements for the FMAG grant (Fire Management Assistance Grant.)”

FMAG is federal financial assistance, which is available to states and local and tribal governments for the mitigation, management and control of fires on publicly or privately owned forests or grasslands, he said.

There is no state cost share for FMAG and the program reimburses 75 percent of eligible costs.

Taylor chairs the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) and briefed members during a recent roundtable discussion, on the recovery process from the fire and discussed the FMAG program.

“In Los Alamos, we didn’t incur structure damage but we did incur expenses in terms of sheltering people at the Cities of Gold and the Santa Claran,” he said. “We also sheltered animals at the Espanola and Santa Fe animal shelters. We have some fuel costs from the engine crews and we requested some assistance from the Albuquerque Police Department and others. We are in the process of compiling those figures to determine the total cost of reimbursement we will be seeking.”

The county will submit the completed report to the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for review before it’s forwarded to FEMA.

“There’s not a cap on the costs,” DHSEM spokesperson Nick Piatek said. “FEMA will reimburse all of the eligible costs that the county has incurred such as fire suppression, sheltering costs and traffic control expenses.”

Eligible firefighting costs also may include expenses for field camps, tools, materials and supplies, equipment use, repair and replacement and mobilization and demobilization activities, according to the FMAG website.

A presidential declaration authorizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to administer various federal disaster assistance programs through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for victims of declared disasters, according to FEMA’s website. One indicator used in determining when a major disaster will be declared, is whether damages exceed $2.84 per capita statewide. Additional criteria include qualitative factors such as the heavy impact of a disaster on a particular area or the occurrence of recent multiple disasters in the same area.

According to the state’s Incident Information System, the Las Conchas Fire, which began June 26 when a tree fell on a power line, destroyed 63 residences and 49 outbuildings and burned 156,593 acres in the Santa Fe National Forest in Los Alamos, Sandoval and Rio Arriba counties, Santa Clara Pueblo, Jemez Pueblo, Cochiti Pueblo, Santo Domingo Pueblo, Bandelier National Monument, Valles Caldera National Preserve and state and private in-holdings.

Martin Vigil, emergency management director for Santa Fe County, is scheduled to give a presentation on the sheltering operations that transpired during the Las Conchas Fire at the next LEPC meeting, set for 1:30 p.m., Thursday at Mesa Public Library.