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2 wildfires in New Mexico have merged into 1. And the weekend is bringing high winds


A wildfire burning east of Santa Fe right now is the second biggest in New Mexico's recorded history. And it's not even peak fire season yet. Two fires have merged into one. The Hermit's Peak and Calf Canyon fires have already destroyed about 170 homes. Michelle Lujan Grisham is the governor of New Mexico and joins us now. Welcome.

MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM: Thank you for having us, Ari. I appreciate paying attention to this emergency.

SHAPIRO: Nearly 16,000 homes are under evacuation orders. And I know you have toured some of the shelters that are housing people. Can you tell us about somebody you met in one of those visits?

LUJAN GRISHAM: Absolutely. You know, there are folks who have been evacuated that are on land grants that have been held by those families for 400 years. And it really puts into perspective what these losses look like. And yet they are organizing food drives. They are getting trained to help provide navigation to assistance. They are helping the World Kitchen cook and deliver meals. They're incredible. And they have their whole families involved. And then I met a new New Mexican, new in the context of, you know, 20 years as opposed to 400, who's alone and in a shelter, older gentleman who is really worried about whether or not we have the ability - and we really don't - to make sure that his cats who are both outdoor and indoor cats are all right and whether he can expect if he's lucky enough to have a home to go to, will they be there? And, you know, these are real issues that people are struggling through. And you can't provide enough comfort to someone in that space because we can't go look every day at those cats, too dangerous.

SHAPIRO: This weekend, high winds are forecast, which could spread these fires really quickly. What's the state doing to prepare for that? Do you think you'll be able to contain this fire in spite of those weather conditions?

LUJAN GRISHAM: Well, we have to do everything that we can. There's no way to say to any New Mexican - so I haven't - that there's no way we keep this fire from spreading. If we thought that was the case, then we wouldn't have mandatory evacuations and high-risk fire warnings. But the containment lines have been holding. A ton of work has been done in preparation for this extreme weather event. We just have to hope that it's enough. And it's more difficult because of the smoke for us to be able to see it and be on it immediately.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. And President Biden's disaster declaration frees up federal aid for New Mexico. Is it going to be enough? How does it compare to the need?

LUJAN GRISHAM: Oh, I'm going to tell you that what I know from being a member of Congress and a governor that none of the federal resources are enough. Now, that sounds angry and it's not intended to be. They have very prescriptive rules about what's available and how you have to be in a real recovery phase, right? You're not actively fighting the fire. But people are evacuated now. They need food and shelter. They need hotel rooms. They need unemployment assistance. Right? They need to be submitting their disaster relief. All of that, in my view, has to happen right away. And certainly the president agrees with us, and they're leaning in. Between local, state and federal - and I have no doubt more appropriations are forthcoming from Congress - we are intending on making people as whole as we can.

SHAPIRO: Big-picture, the Western U.S. right now is in another historic drought, and climate change is expected to make fires like this one more common and more severe. So what can New Mexico and other states do to prepare for that future?

LUJAN GRISHAM: We have to revise and revitalize our forest protection plans. Given the extreme heat, extreme drought and the winds, prescribed burning has to be narrowed and refined in a meaningful way. Getting fuel out of the forest, trimming trees and then taking them out. We have this sort of disconnect where you trim and then it's left on the ground - can't do it. We have got to think about continual year-long forest health. And we don't do that in the context of a robust federal and state partnership. I expect New Mexico to lead that for the entire Southwest.

SHAPIRO: That's New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat. Thank you for speaking with us.

LUJAN GRISHAM: Thank you. I appreciate the time today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mind that you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.