In New Mexico, raging wildfires threaten the U.S. state’s Hispanic bastion
Multiple wildfires are raging in New Mexico, including a megafire. The wildfires particularly pose a threat to the state’s long-time Hispanic bastion.
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Since early April, parts of New Mexico have been facing ongoing wildfires. Attempting a recovery, the area is also facing the multifaceted side effects of wildfires and wildfire smoke.
Climate change has weakened forests, changed how they respond to wildfires, and raised the frequency of wildfires.
Wildfires contribute to droughts and dry conditions, with wildfire smoke posing a higher risk for health issues and damage to affected areas.
Populations and areas affected by wildfires may face respiratory and cardiovascular complications, which may lead to emergency room visits and/or hospitalizations.
The effects of wildfire smoke may promote asthma, bronchitis, chest pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), respiratory infections, lung illnesses or complications, and in some cases death, reports the CDC.
Past the possible health complications of exposed groups, New Mexico’s ongoing wildfire crisis is posing threats for the state’s Hispanic and Latino populations.
In the state, Hispanic and Latino populations facing wildfires are being forced to evacuate. The state’s longtime Hispanic bastion is also in the line of fire.
The Hispanic bastion of New Mexico
The wildfires have been spreading from a starting point in the Southwest. The wildfires now include the largest wildfire burning in the U.S. today.
Residents living where the wildfires have spread — such as the state’s remote mountains — have had to flee the region.
Resident, farmer, and retired musician Miguel Martinez, in conversation with the New York Times, revealed he had no choice but to leave over 85 animals at his residence in El Oro before evacuating.
Martinez evacuated El Oro, a village in New Mexico, and left for an evacuee shelter. It is suggested residents seek an evacuation shelter if faced with similar difficulties.
April saw a dozen wildfires spread across New Mexico. The wildfires have persisted into May and spread throughout the state.
A megafire dubbed the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire has also spanned over 160,000 acres of northern New Mexico land.
Tens of thousands of people now face evacuation in the state across an estimated 15,500 households. Over 170 homes have been destroyed.
It is feared that the wildfires pose a threat particularly to New Mexico’s Hispanic and Latino populations, which share a rich and multi-generational history.
New Mexico’s population is 49.3% Hispanic or Latino, reports the U.S. Census Bureau. Out of this group, many have heritage based in Hispanic settlers who arrived in New Mexico prior to the founding of the United States.
This group of settlers grew crops, married Native Americans, and contributed to the development of the region's lasting heritage.
With the wildfires forcing evacuations, causing complete destruction of property and belongings, and with no time for residents to pack, a vital history is facing an expected threat.
“These fires are burning down a way of life that’s lasted hundreds of years,” stated New Mexico’s state historian, Rob Martinez.
When it is safe to return to affected areas, salvaging anything that evaded destruction and reuniting families with the towns of their ancestors should pose an utmost priority.
Going forward in the wildfire fight
It is believed the wildfires will worsen in the days following, mainly due to dry weather.
President Joe Biden has now declared a major disaster in the region, and has approved federal aid support in the wildfire fight.
With the support of federal aid, temporary housing and home repairs may be funded, as well as low-cost loans pertaining to property damage and loss, applied to both residents and businesses.
The support from these funds will assist residents in New Mexico — including those included in the Hispanic bastion — to reclaim losses in the damage.
This aid will help homeowners and businesses rebuild, but will also provide the foundation needed for Hispanic and Latino residents to rebound from the damage.
Following resident’s return to areas encompassing the Hispanic bastion, a focus on remedying the damage deserves support and attention.
It has also been noted that with a presidential disaster declaration, nonprofits and officials in New Mexico would be eligible for additional support.
This support would include statewide hazard mitigation, additional evacuation shelters, and aid in funding emergency measures, applied to Colfax, Lincoln, Mora, San Miguel and Valencia counties.