Rebuilding Lives in New Mexico After Wildfire Devastation

Rebuilding Lives in New Mexico After Wildfire Devastation

A devastating wildfire broke out on April 12, 2022 at approximately 2:30 PM, upending and forever altering the lives of the community living in Ruidoso, New Mexico. Originating near McBride Road in Lincoln County, this fire ignited in the Lincoln National Forest after a neglected tree fell down, knocking over a power line. The fire’s rapid spread was fueled by severe atmospheric conditions, characterized by gusts reaching up to 70 miles per hour and sustained winds oscillating between 50 to 60 miles per hour. The extreme dryness of the environment exacerbated the situation.

During the initial phase, the ferocity of the winds hampered firefighting efforts from the air. However, subsequent days witnessed improved conditions, enabling the deployment of fixed-wing aircraft, including Very Large Air Tankers (VLATs), and helicopters to counter the flames.

This wildfire raged across a total of 6,159 acres and left a trail of devastation in its wake. Over 200 homes were engulfed by the flames, leading to significant property loss. Tragically, the fire also claimed two lives. The official cause of such destruction was determined to be a neglected tree that collapsed on power lines, igniting the parched surroundings decimating everything in its path. 

By April 17, all evacuation orders were revoked, allowing residents to return to assess the damage. A silver lining emerged on May 7, when officials declared the fire to be 100% contained. The McBride fire, and others like it, stands as a poignant reminder of how corporate greed and negligence can ignite massive devastation and destruction, upending innocent lives along the way.

After Wildfires, Communities Then Face Burn Scar Flooding

After the devastating McBride Fire in Ruidoso, the community is grappling with a new challenge: burn scar flooding. Burn scars refer to regions where fires have destroyed vegetation, rendering the land vulnerable to flooding during heavy rainfalls. Residents who once felt the immediate heat of the fire are now feeling the ripple effects of its aftermath. Many families, having lost their homes, are now situated in temporary accommodations. But just when some were given the nod to start rebuilding, the burn scars make each heavy downpour a setback, forcing them to restart. In particular, areas that were once dry, like certain creeks, have been seen overflowing, with water levels reaching unprecedented heights.

The financial burden of the aftermath is also weighing heavily on the community. Insurance, for many, only covers a fraction of the rising costs due to inflation and increased supply expenses. The sentiment among many in the Ruidoso community is a feeling of abandonment and powerlessness, a belief that their continuing struggles have been overlooked.

Choosing the Right Law Firm for Wildfire Victims

In the aftermath of devastating wildfires, communities often find themselves facing not only the immediate destruction of their homes and landscapes but also the longer-term challenges of rebuilding both their physical surroundings and their lives. The need for an experienced and capable legal representation during these tumultuous times cannot be understated. The law firm of Watts Law Firm LLP emerges as an unparalleled advocate for wildfire victims, evident from their history of representation and success in empowering people to rebuild their lives and emerge resilient. 

The power of Watts Law Firm LLP in wildfire litigation was recently exemplified when the firm spearheaded the legal team that secured a staggering $13.5 billion settlement for the victims of the California wildfires in 2019. This monumental accomplishment isn’t just a testament to the firm’s legal acumen, but also to its unwavering commitment to championing the rights and needs of affected communities.

Representing an extensive array of clients, Watts stood for more than 16,000 plaintiffs in the case against utility giant PG&E, encompassing about 23 percent of the total 70,000 claimants. Their expertise encompassed diverse incidents, from the North Bay fires of 2017 in Sonoma County to the harrowing aftermath of the Camp Fire in Butte County, which saw the destruction of 14,000 structures in the town of Paradise.

Understanding the value of proximity and accessibility to the afflicted communities, the law firm made the strategic decision to establish staffed local offices in regions severely impacted by the wildfires. This initiative wasn’t solely logistical; it symbolized the firm’s dedication to offering a personalized touch, making themselves more accessible to those they served. Additionally, Mikal C. Watts made it a priority to personally meet with and speak to his 16,000 clients in town hall style meetings that he held every 90 days. This, combined with a robust staff of legal professionals working around the clock, ensured the individual clients were given the personalized service that they deserve while taking the steps to rebuild their lives. 

Perhaps what stands out most about Watts Law Firm LLP’s approach is their vision of justice that extends beyond mere financial compensation. A key element in their negotiation with the utility company was the push for an overhaul of its board. This strategic move ensured a renewed focus on safety, aiming to prevent future tragedies by holding companies accountable for prioritizing profits over people.

Empower Your Claim

For the residents of Ruidoso, grappling with the aftermath of the McBride fire and the subsequent challenges such as burn scar flooding and financial hardships, the journey to recovery will be multifaceted. As they navigate this journey, the value of a seasoned legal representative cannot be overstated. Watts Law Firm LLP, leveraging the power of the law, gives voice to those impacted by catastrophe, underscoring the resilience of communities determined to rebuild. With their unmatched experience and steadfast track record, they stand as a foremost ally for wildfire victims in pursuit of justice and a renewed path forward.

FAQs About the McBride Fire Litigation In New Mexico

Can McBride Fire Victims Pursue Emotional Distress and Mental Anguish Claims?

Experiencing damage to your property or enduring a nuisance can lead to valid claims for the emotional upset it inflicts. This remains valid even if you weren’t present at the location during the incident.

Historical fire litigations shed light on the potential claims against utility companies in events like the McBride Fire. A significant reference is the Hensley V. San Diego Gas & Electric Co. case, where the California Court of Appeals highlighted:

  • Property owners have the right to claim damages for emotional turmoil caused by property damage or nuisances.
  • In the Hensley case, the utility company contended that those not present on their property during the fire shouldn’t be entitled to emotional distress damages.
  • The court took an opposing stance. They clarified that individuals can claim damages for emotional distress due to property damage or nuisances, irrespective of their whereabouts during the event.

From this verdict, it’s evident that if the McBride Fire impacted your property, you’re entitled to pursue damages for emotional distress, regardless of your presence or absence during the fire. For those who witnessed the fire and had to evacuate, their case for claims stands even stronger.

What Compensation Can Be Pursued For Tree Damage in the McBride Fire?

In instances where trees are harmed or lost due to a fire, insurance policies often cap the amount of reimbursement for each tree, typically ranging from $500 to $750. Moreover, there might be an overall ceiling on the amount reimbursed for all tree losses. But it’s important to note that you can take legal action against those liable for the fire to recover the actual value of the trees, not just the stipulated insurance amount. You might be able to claim additional damages, encompassing legal costs and the emotional distress resulting from the loss of your trees.

Many individuals saw their trees damaged or destroyed during the McBride Fire. Even if your only loss was trees, your claim remains significant. Replacing trees can strain finances, and the absence of trees might lead to other issues like destabilized soil, damaged boundaries, or compromised pathways. If the McBride Fire affected your trees, reaching out to us can help you lodge a claim.

When claiming damages for tree loss, you aren’t confined to just the wood’s monetary worth. The emotional anguish caused by the loss is also a valid concern. As reinforced by the California court decision in Fulle v. Kanani, damages can be anchored in the diminished property value or even the expenses linked to restoring the property to its former state. This holds true even if the restoration bills surpass the dip in property value, especially if there’s a sentimental reason behind restoration.

Empower Your McBride Fire Claim

How Are Litigation Costs Managed for the McBride Fire Litigation?

Taking on massive entities requires substantial resources, and our firm is fully committed to bearing all litigation costs tied to the McBride Wildfire Damage Litigation. If we don’t secure a recovery for you, you owe us nothing. Recognizing the financial weight of lawsuits against corporations, we’ve collaborated with a nationally acclaimed firm that possesses the capability and willingness to invest heavily for their clients.

Clients often have questions about the nature of these costs. They fall into two main categories:

  • Specific Expenses: These are costs tailored to your unique situation, such as appraising a lost item or property specific to you. We make it a priority to notify and get your approval before any such costs are incurred.
  • General Expenses: These are collective costs borne by all our clients. They mainly pertain to establishing the liability of the responsible party. 

Even though it’s vital to understand these costs, they often represent a small fraction when set against the potential recoveries. We’re always available to address any questions or concerns you might have.

What Are the Types of Losses and Damages?

After a fire, you might find out that your insurance doesn’t cover everything. It’s tough, especially when some things can’t be replaced.

Here’s a list of what you might have lost:

  • Damage to businesses from the fire or smoke
  • Business problems because of the fire, like losing customers or employees
  • Damage to your house
  • Damage to rented places
  • Damage to land or fields
  • Losing your job or money
  • Getting hurt and sustaining physical injury or illness due to fire or smoke inhalation
  • Emotional distress, or feeling very upset or scared
  • Someone dying because of the fire

Even if insurance pays for fixing your house, other issues can come up. For example, your house’s value might go down because the area looks different or has fewer trees. If you decide not to fix your house, the land value can also go down because of the fire damage.

Some insurance plans only pay for living somewhere else for two years. But fixing your house might take longer. This means you might have to move and pay extra money.

Things in your house, like old family photos or special collections, might not get the full money from insurance. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for more money in court. Keep a list of these special items. And remember, just because insurance doesn’t pay for it, doesn’t mean you can’t ask for more in court.

Pictures or videos from before and after the fire can help show what you lost.

If you own a business and the fire caused financial problems, keep all your papers. Things like tax forms can show how much money you lost. If your business was hurt, you might lose more than just the repair costs. Write everything down. Even if the insurance doesn’t pay, you can still ask for the full amount in court.

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.