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Lawsuit alleges FEMA has delayed compensation for victims of worst wildfire in New Mexico’s history

SANTA FE. N.M. (AP) — A new lawsuit has been filed against the Federal Emergency Management Agency, alleging compensation has been delayed for victims of the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history.

FEMA is responsible for doling out funds to people who suffered losses in the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire that began as two prescribed burns set by the U.S. Forest Service in January and April 2022 in northern New Mexico.

The blazes combined and burned about 341,000 acres (532 square miles) in the mountains east of Santa Fe, destroying hundreds of homes and displacing thousands of residents in rural villages throughout the area.

The federal government set aside nearly $4 billion last year to pay claims related to the wildfire.

FEMA officials said as of last month, the agency had paid $276 million to 880 claimants who suffered losses.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Wednesday that the latest lawsuit involving the devastating wildfire was filed by 15 claimants who say FEMA officials misrepresented claim deadlines and has failed to process claims within a required 180-day time frame.

The plaintiffs said FEMA has “unilaterally decided” the 180-day period to notify claimants of a compensation offer starts not when a claim is submitted but after the federal agency has “acknowledged” the claim, which can be as long as five months after it was filed.

FEMA’s New Mexico information center declined to comment on the lawsuit, but it said it had identified a flaw in its reporting system that affected the timeline management of some cases.

“We are addressing the issue and are calling the parties involved to notify them and discuss available steps to process their claims as quickly as possible,” Claims Office officials said in a statement to the New Mexican.

The newspaper said the plaintiffs’ collective claims total nearly $17 million in losses.

Article Topic Follows: AP New Mexico

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