Wildfire Damage Litigation for Affected New Mexico Residents

On April 6, 2022, the peaceful landscapes surrounding Hermits Peak in the Pecos Wilderness were drastically altered. What began as a controlled prescribed fire by the U.S. Forest Service in the Las Dispensas area swiftly turned into a ravenous wildfire that consumed vast stretches of land and threatened lives and property. The origin of this devastation can be traced back to the Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger District of the Santa Fe National Forest.

Despite forecasts indicating favorable conditions for the burn, unexpected and erratic wind gusts that afternoon led to multiple spot fires breaking free from the intended boundaries. Merely hours after a test fire in the Las Dispensas area was deemed successful, and crews began their work, the situation escalated. By 4:30 p.m. on that fateful day, it was no longer a controlled burn; it was a full-blown wildfire, a force of nature unleashed.

This wildfire, now known as the Hermits Peak Fire, later combined with the Calf Canyon Fire, ignited approximately 12 miles northwest of Las Vegas, New Mexico. As the days went on, the fire’s wrath became evident. It has since consumed a staggering 341,735 acres, making it New Mexico’s largest wildfire in state history. 

Aftermath of Wildfire Investigation Points to Preventable Oversights

The aftermath brought pressing questions about why this tragedy unfolded and whether it was preventable. In pursuit of answers, the U.S. Forest Service embarked on an exhaustive review. This 85-page investigation unearthed concerning oversights. The implementation of the burn occurred under conditions far drier than initially realized. Furthermore, factors like the prolonged government shutdown in 2018, followed by the pandemic, caused delays in the planned burn. 

Over these years, the region had experienced increasing drought severity, warmer temperatures, and a significant drop in snowpack. Yet, these changing conditions were not adequately accounted for in the preparations.

Other glaring issues highlighted in the report include the use of inaccurate weather data, not sourced from the nearest stations, and maintenance lapses that left crucial weather stations offline. Though there was no red flag warning for the region on the day of the fire, there were unmistakable signs of potential danger, such as notably low humidity levels the day before.

The review also pointed out the lack of sufficient crews on the ground and a failure to establish essential firelines. The timing of the burn was also questioned, given it did not align with the typical prescribed burn season. This misalignment was, in part, attributed to the need to work around the breeding season of the Mexican spotted owl, an endangered species.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore acknowledged the necessity of the review, stating its importance in understanding the unfolding of this tragic event and emphasizing the inherent risks involved in wildfire mitigation and land management activities.

What started as the Hermits Peak Fire that ignited on April 19, culminating in an even more substantial blaze that left an indelible mark on the landscape and the lives of New Mexicans.

As communities grapple with the aftermath of this disaster, it stands as a potent reminder of the paramount importance of meticulous planning when dealing with fire and controlled burns, and the high stakes that are at risk.

Empowering New Mexico Communities to Rebuild Their Lives

Victims of the Hermits Peak Fire are confronted with an unprecedented challenge that necessitates a formidable ally in their quest for justice and accountability. In Watts Law Firm LLP, they will find that ally. When faced with catastrophic events that leave communities in ruins, the sense of powerlessness is profound. However, with our firm’s support, victims are emboldened to recover their lives and navigate through the aftermath with an unwavering spirit.

Watts Law Firm LLP is not an ordinary mass tort law firm. We have a relentless commitment to ensuring that justice prevails, particularly when whole communities are thrown into chaos. It’s our foundational belief that regardless of economic status, age, or creed, everyone should have unfettered access to the power of the law. We’ve dedicated ourselves to transform this belief into a tangible reality for those we champion.

Our experience in high-profile, high-stakes mass tort litigation is vast. This expertise is exemplified by our involvement in securing a $13.5 billion settlement in previous wildfire litigation. Such an achievement not only underscores our commitment but also highlights our deep-seated experience, making us the ideal choice to represent those affected by the New Mexico fire.

Representing thousands of those wronged, we take pride in uniting victims, allowing them to mount a collective challenge against behemoth corporations responsible for widespread damages and emotional trauma. There’s undeniable strength in unity, and communities realize their full potential when they come together to demand redress. While mass tort cases recognize the unique damages each victim undergoes, at Watts Law Firm LLP, every individual is given unparalleled attention, as though they were our sole client.

Empower Your Hermits Peak Fire Claim

Ongoing Town Hall Meetings in Las Vegas and Mora, New Mexico

Pairing individual focus with a vast array of resources, a dedicated team, and cutting-edge technology, we pledge regular, comprehensive updates to every client regarding their claim status. Our representation spans across the nation, particularly in regions hit hard by environmental disasters. Experienced wildfire lawyer Mikal C. Watts prioritizes face-to-face meetings with clients and has developed a two-fold strategy to maintain communication when he and the law firm represent thousands of clients. 

Firstly, he invests the necessary resources in legal staffing and technology so his nationwide office is available to clients at any moment, and clients are kept up to date on the status of their claims and cases. More importantly, Mikal personally travels to every city affected by wildfire damage every 90 days to ensure he can meet his clients, hear their stories, and address their concerns. To keep New Mexico residents informed about the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire litigation, Mikal regularly travels to Las Vegas, New Mexico and Mora, New Mexico for these meetings. When in-person meetings aren’t feasible, Watts holds telephonic meetings with affected clients.

This level of personalized attention, combined with our unmatched courtroom prowess and unwavering determination, sets us apart. We don’t merely represent; we stand in solidarity with our clients, fervently battling major corporations and staying the course until justice prevails. Essentially, when victims choose us, they find a partner ready to share their burden and fight their battle to the very end.

Opting for Watts Law Firm LLP means entrusting a team that guarantees every victim is not only heard but also understood and effectively championed. Our achievements, including challenging some of the world’s titanic corporations in sectors ranging from automotive to pharmaceuticals, and particularly our significant wildfire settlement, are a testament to our dedication. By leveraging our influence and expertise, we assist clients in their pursuit against corporate negligence, ensuring justice is served and dignity restored. This, we believe, epitomizes the true essence of the law – advocating for the wronged and facilitating meaningful change.

In the wake of devastating events like the Hermits Peak Fire, Watts Law Firm LLP stands unwavering, prepared to help victims rebuild. Our commitment ensures that those affected are equipped with the resources and strength needed to confront even the mightiest adversaries. More than mere legal representation, Watts Law Firm LLP embodies empowerment, resilience, and a commitment to broader societal change, working diligently to safeguard future generations from similar harm. Choosing Watts Law Firm LLP is choosing to rise from the ashes, armed with experience, dedication, and a track record of monumental successes.

FAQs About Hermits Peak Wildfire Damage Litigation

Is there a law specifically for Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire Victims?

On September 30, 2022 the Hermits Peak Fire Assistance Act became law and was funded with $3.95 Billion for people and businesses with injury caused by the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fires. The law provides the following damage categories:

“(4) Allowable damages.—

(A) Loss of property.—A claim that is paid for loss of property under this Act may include otherwise uncompensated damages resulting from the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire for—

(i) an uninsured or underinsured property loss;

(ii) a decrease in the value of real property;

(iii) damage to physical infrastructure, including irrigation infrastructure such as acequia systems;

(iv) a cost resulting from lost subsistence from hunting, fishing, firewood gathering, timbering, grazing, or agricultural activities conducted on land damaged by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire;

(v) a cost of reforestation or revegetation on Tribal or non-Federal land, to the extent that the cost of reforestation or revegetation is not covered by any other Federal program; and

(vi) any other loss that the Administrator determines to be appropriate for inclusion as loss of property.

(B) Business loss.—A claim that is paid for injury under this Act may include damages resulting from the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire for the following types of otherwise uncompensated business loss:

(i) Damage to tangible assets or inventory, including natural resources.

(ii) Business interruption losses.

(iii) Overhead costs.

(iv) Employee wages for work not performed.

(v) Loss of business net income.

(vi) Any other loss that the Administrator determines to be appropriate for inclusion as business loss.

(C) Financial loss.—A claim that is paid for injury under this Act may include damages resulting from the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire for the following types of otherwise uncompensated financial loss:

(i) Increased mortgage interest costs.

(ii) An insurance deductible.

(iii) A temporary living or relocation expense.

(iv) Lost wages or personal income.

(v) Emergency staffing expenses.

(vi) Debris removal and other cleanup costs.

(vii) Costs of reasonable efforts, as determined by the Administrator, to reduce the risk of wildfire, flood, or other natural disaster in the counties impacted by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire to risk levels prevailing in those counties before the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, that are incurred not later than the date that is 3 years after the date on which the regulations under subsection (f) are first promulgated.

(viii) A premium for flood insurance that is required to be paid on or before May 31, 2024, if, as a result of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, a person that was not required to purchase flood insurance before the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire is required to purchase flood insurance.

(ix) A disaster assistance loan received from the Small Business Administration.

(x) Any other loss that the Administrator determines to be appropriate for inclusion as financial loss.”

Are Erosion or Flooding Losses Recoverable for Hermits Peak Fire?

In the event of potential erosion threats to your property following a wildfire, our in-house arborist will assess the risks and potential control measures. Any costs related to erosion mitigation due to fire damage will be considered in our loss report. Our specialist will integrate these costs into your arbor/landscape evaluation.

Flooding complications that arise directly from wildfires require meticulous examination. Our team will deploy experts to ascertain the connection between the wildfire and subsequent flooding. If there’s a substantiated link, we’ll actively pursue claims for these flood-related damages. This holds true for both past floods and those that may occur in the upcoming years.

Having witnessed firsthand the repercussions of flooding, such as ruined roads and homes protected with sandbags, we recognize the gravity of the situation. The flood alerts on our phones are a testament to the pervasive distress caused. Safety remains paramount; always stay vigilant and steer clear of flash flood areas.

Can I be compensated for loss of home, timber, and emotional distress after the Hermits Peak Fire?

Having stood-by over 18,000 wildfire survivors, we’ve seen a myriad of losses they’ve faced – from homes, properties, and businesses, to personal items and emotional well-being. If you’ve faced an unconventional loss, reach out, and we’ll guide you.

The aftermath of a wildfire isn’t limited to immediate visible damages. For instance, trees might seem unscathed initially, but can perish in the years following due to unseen damages. Our skilled arborists are adept at assessing the true extent of losses in trees, landscaping, and timber.

Our experts are also proficient in estimating rebuilding costs, valuing lost personal items, and assessing business-related losses. Moreover, if you’ve been unable to use your property due to fire damage, there’s an ascertainable economic value to that denial, whether gauged through rental value or other means.

Empower Your Hermits Peak Fire Claim

The emotional toll of wildfires cannot be understated. Our extensive work during the North Bay and Camp Fires showed that emotional distress was a common thread amongst survivors. Experiencing a wildfire, especially if one narrowly escapes, almost always results in emotional upheavals. It’s imperative to prioritize mental well-being and seek therapeutic assistance tailored to individual needs.

Evacuating from a potentially lethal wildfire zone or losing cherished belongings can both be deeply traumatic. We often suggest our clients pen down their experiences – both during evacuation and in the aftermath. It’s not only therapeutic but also valuable for documentation, along with your more tangible and financial losses.

Is our Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire Litigation a class action lawsuit?

No, our wildfire litigation for Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fires is not a class action lawsuit, where one or a few individuals represent a larger group with common issues. However, when it comes to extensive fire damages, a class action doesn’t fit. Each victim’s damages are distinct: while one might have lost personal belongings, another might have lost their home, their business, or faced job losses. Some businesses might not have been physically affected by the fire but suffered revenue declines due to disruptions or a decrease in customers.

Instead of a class action, claims for Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fire will be individualized, reflecting each person’s unique losses. Such collections of individual claims are sometimes termed as mass actions or mass tort claims. Should you choose our firm to represent your case, we will file a distinct claim on your behalf.

Disclaimer: This page is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

Mikal Watts

Written on behalf of Mikal Watts, and reviewed by Watts Law Firm LLP

Mikal C. Watts is Board-Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and is a Martindale-Hubbel AV Rated Lawyer.