Tierra Monte, NM — In April of this year, the US government started the largest wildfire in New Mexico's history. The fires were set by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) — ironically to reduce wildfire risk — but having the opposite of their intended effect. Thanks to several acts of incompetence, neglect, and ignorance, the controlled burn morphed into a catastrophic blaze that engulfed over 530 square miles of mostly privately owned forests and meadows, while destroying 432 homes as well. Now, after burning down their homes and land, the state is demanding the victims pay for the damage themselves — despite previous reassurances that they would be given support.
"Today I'm announcing the federal government's covering 100% of the cost," President Joe Biden said after he visited the state in June. But, like so many words uttered from the mouths of US presidents, that was not true.
FEMA has so far granted $4.2 million to the 1,164 fire survivors, marking an average payout of $3,600. To one of the hundreds of folks who lost their home, this is a kick in the teeth.
According to a recent report in Reuters, cost-sharing statutes on federal relief programs are preventing the victims from receiving the help they need. Instead of the promised 100% of the cost, victims of the government's seeming act of arson were told they are on the hook for 25% of the total cost, as per the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) guidelines.
Daniel Encinias and his wife Lori were victims of the government blaze and are now finding out that they are on the hook for the damage.
"Why the hell am I going to pay anything when I didn't cause this damn fire?" Encinias told Reuters.
Naturally, as Reuters reports, these victims can't simply shell out the millions of dollars it will take to repair the damages caused by the government's fire.
Many fire-hit families cannot afford sharing at least 25% of costs on the USDA's Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP)which offers relief such as stabilization of burn areas prone to flash flooding, according to New Mexico State Forester Laura McCarthy. Residents sometimes own large areas of land passed down from 1800s Spanish-Mexican land grants while working blue-collar jobs.
"They're really struggling," said McCarthy.
Recommended for You
Residents are now putting their hopes into a congressional bill that will fix the cost sharing nonsense but given the extremely slow turning wheels of Congress, this could be months or even years out.
Another victim, Leger Fernandez told Reuters that he is going straight to the USDA and is negotiating a waiver with the NRCS to drop the cost sharing provision.
"The federal government burns your house down so they are responsible in my mind to pay 100% of the cost of rebuilding," Fernandez said.
"If you don't have insurance you're pretty much on your own," said Kenny Zamora, 59, another victim, who like Encinias is considering joining a massive civil case that may be filed against the USFS.
For now, hundreds of families are living in tents and campers next to the ashes of their homes, hoping that something changes. But if history is any indicator, they will likely be waiting a very, very long time.
We've seen similar scenarios unfold within the police state when SWAT teams destroy the homes of innocent people and then tell them they are on the hook for the bill. In July of 2020, Vicki Baker, 75, was told she had to cover the $50,000 in damages to her home after police literally blew it up looking for a suspect. It would take her two years to finally get her money back.
The late Harry Edson Browne was a libertarian writer, public speaker and the Libertarian Party's nominee for president in 1996 and 2000. Before he died in 2006, Browne made a statement that perfectly summed up this situation:
“The government is good at one thing. It knows how to break your legs, and then hand you a crutch and say, 'See if it weren't for the government, you wouldn't be able to walk.'”