Frustrations continue for Hermits Peak Calf Canyon victims waiting on FEMA claims

Frustrations continue for Hermits Peak Calf Canyon victims waiting on FEMA claims

MORA COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s been nearly two years since the Hermits Peak Calf Canyon Fire sparked in northeastern New Mexico, and while FEMA is working to get claims approved, some people are still frustrated with the process and mistakes being made.

While local FEMA officials say around 63% of claims they’ve received have been approved for payment, one woman says she’s still waiting for relief and losing faith in the process. “Rogers Ranch was basically decimated during the fire there were hundreds of acres of trees burned, our neighbor’s property the fire came right up to the edge of our house,” said Heather Vuchinich HPCC fire victim.

Story continues below

Her home was spared, but after nearly two years Vuchinich is still waiting to get paid from the feds for what she lost. “We lost an adobe bunkhouse that was over a hundred years old,” said Vuchinich.

That bunkhouse was estimated to cost over a million dollars. On top of that, she also lost acres of trees, landscaping, and her well. She says she’s only received around $1,000 in initial payments. “There’s been stories about people who have died before getting their settlements or getting to move back to their property,” said Vuchinich.

Hoping to expedite the process, Vuchinich recently went in person to a FEMA event in Mora but after a three-hour wait, she didn’t get good news. “The person I was able to talk to said that yes, we have lost two pieces of paperwork and my lawyer sent me emails where he actually had acknowledgment from FEMA saying we have received that paperwork,” said Vuchinich.

FEMA says it recognizes continued problems. “This has not been a perfect process, Congress directed FEMA to launch a brand new program something FEMA does not ordinarily do after every disaster but we are making some operational changes and we are continuing to staff up,” said FEMA spokesperson John Mills.

The claims office has approved $465 million and over 2,000 claims so far but admits much more needs to be done. “We’re really focused on unmet needs. What damage did the fire do to your life, what assistance did you already receive and how can the claims office help fill those gaps,” said Mills.

He says FEMA is focused on urgent situations like people facing homelessness due to the fire. “The claims office now is in a much better state than it was just a few months ago and the processes are getting better and better,” said Mills.

Vuchinich, who runs her own business from home, says the changes being made aren’t enough. “I basically have had to make working on the fire kinda advocacy a part-time job which takes away the focus and the energy I’m able to put into my own business,” said Vuchinch.

To help process claims, FEMA recently announced they are expanding their Mora office as well as extending hours there, to work one-on-one with anyone impacted.

According to federal rules, FEMA is supposed to be making a decision on claims within 180 days of acknowledging a property owner’s notice of loss. A group of claimants waiting on payments has a lawsuit against FEMA still pending in federal court.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to KRQE NEWS 13 - Breaking News, Albuquerque News, New Mexico News, Weather, and Videos.