Biden approves disaster declaration for New Mexico wildfires

Areas in New Mexico have been affected by wildfires that sparked on April 5

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President Biden approved a disaster declaration on Wednesday that sends federal financial aid to New Mexico areas affected by wildfires that sparked on April 5. 

The administration said in a statement that the funding will be available to individuals in Colfax, Lincoln, Mora, San Miguel and Valencia counties.

That assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help home and business owners recover.

"Federal funding also is available to State and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency protective measures (Category B), limited to direct federal assistance and reimbursement for mass care including evacuation and shelter support in the counties of Colfax, Lincoln, Mora, San Miguel and Valencia," the administration said. "Lastly, Federal funding is also available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide."

NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR REQUESTS DISASTER STATUS FOR WILDFIRE

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham sent the request to the president and previously signed emergency declarations in several threatened counties. 

On Wednesday, Fox Weather reported that the massive Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fires burning outside Las Vegas, New Mexico – which merged at the end of April – now cover an area almost the size of New York City.

On Thursday, the U.S. Forest Service said the fires spanned 165,276 acres and that the flames were 20% contained. 

NEW MEXICO FIRES EXPECTED TO SPREAD AS RESIDENTS FLEE

Nearly 1,300 personnel – on the ground and in the air – are working on the fires, which have torn through alpine forest and grasslands. 

Aircraft, which were grounded much of Wednesday due to high winds, have dropped fire retardant, as ground crews cleared timber and brush. 

Thousands have been affected by mandatory evacuations and schools were closed.

In addition, officials at Los Alamos National Laboratory were tracking another wildfire that crept Wednesday within about 5 miles of facilities at the U.S. national defense laboratory based in Los Alamos.

The National Interagency Fire Center says that more than 1 million acres have burned nationally since Jan. 1.  

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Wildfires have become a year-round threat in the drought-stricken West.

Scientists and fire experts say they are moving faster and burning hotter than ever due to climate change.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.