Biden increasing federal aid in New Mexico wildfire fight, Record temperatures in Southwestern cities as heat wave continues, + More | #students | #parents


Biden ramps up federal help for New Mexico wildfire fightBy Chris Mergerian, Morgan Lee, Associated Press

President Joe Biden said Saturday he was escalating federal assistance for New Mexico as it faces its largest wildfire in recorded state history.

The fire began with prescribed burns that were set by the U.S. Forest Service, a standard practice that’s intended to clear out combustible underbrush. However, the burns spread out of control, destroying hundreds of homes across 500 square miles (1,300 square kilometers) since early April, according to federal officials.

“We need to be sure this doesn’t happen again,” Biden said during a visit to an emergency operations center in Santa Fe, where he met with local, state and federal officials. He was returning to Washington from Los Angeles, where he had attended the Summit of the Americas.

The president said the federal government would cover the full cost of the emergency response and debris removal, a responsibility that was previously shared with the state government.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told Biden that “your administration has leaned in from the very beginning” and that “we need the federal government to keep accepting responsibility.”

Biden said he also supports having Washington foot the bill for damages caused by the fire, but such a step would require congressional action.

Evidence of New Mexico’s struggle with wildfire was visible from Air Force One as the president’s plane approached. There were plumes of smoke in the distance, and rows of burned trees looked like blackened scars slashing through green forests.

Evacuations have displaced thousands of residents from rural villages with Spanish-colonial roots and high poverty rates, while causing untold environmental damage. Fear of flames is giving way to concern about erosion and mudslides in places where superheated fire penetrated soil and roots.

The blaze is the latest reminder of Biden’s concern about wildfires, which are expected to worsen as climate change continues, and how they will strain resources needed to fight them.

“These fires are blinking ‘code red’ for our nation,” Biden said last year after stops in Idaho and California. “They’re gaining frequency and ferocity.”

But the source of the current wildfire in New Mexico has also sparked outrage here.

A group of Mora County residents sued the U.S. Forest Service this past week in an effort to obtain more information about the government’s role.

The Forest Service sets roughly 4,500 prescribed burns each year nationwide, and Biden said the practice has been put on hold during an investigation.

Ralph Arellanes of Las Vegas, New Mexico, said many ranchers of modest means appear unlikely to receive compensation for uninsured cabins, barns and sheds that were razed by the fire.

“They’ve got their day job and their ranch and farm life. It’s not like they have a big old house or hacienda — it could be a very basic home, may or may not have running water,” said Arellanes, a former wildland firefighter and chairman for a confederation of Hispanic community advocacy groups. “They use it to stay there to feed and water the cattle on the weekend. Or maybe they have a camper. But a lot of that got burned.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved at least 900 disaster relief claims worth more than $3 million for individuals and households.

On Thursday, the Biden administration extended eligible financial relief to the repair of water facilities, irrigation ditches, bridges and roads. Proposed legislation from U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, D-N.M., would offer full compensation for nearly all lost property and income linked to the wildfire.

Jennifer Carbajal says she evacuated twice from the impending wildfire at a shared family home at Pandaries in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The house survived while about 50 neighboring homes burned along with the tanks that feed the municipal water system, leaving no local supply of potable water without truck deliveries.

“There is no long-term plan right now for water infrastructure in northern New Mexico,” Carbajal said.

She said matters are worse in many hardscrabble communities across fire-scarred Mora County, where the median household income is roughly $28,000 — less than half the national average.

“They barter a lot and really have never had to rely on external resources,” she said. “The whole idea of applying for a loan (from FEMA) is an immediate turnoff for the majority of that population.”

Jaclyn Rothenberg, a spokeswoman for FEMA, said the agency had more than 400 personnel in the state to work with residents and help them seek federal assistance.

George Fernandez of Las Vegas, New Mexico, says his family is unlikely to be compensated for an uninsured, fire-gutted house in the remote Mineral Hills area, nor a companion cabin that was built by his grandparents nearly a century ago.

Fernandez said his brother had moved away from the house to a nursing home before the fire swept through — making direct federal compensation unlikely under current rules because the house was no longer a primary residence.

“I think they should make accommodations for everybody who lost whatever they lost at face value,” Fernandez said. “It would take a lot of money to accomplish that, but it was something they started and I think they should.”

Phoenix, Vegas, Denver post records amid Southwest heat waveAssociated Press

Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver and California’s Death Valley all posted record temperatures on Saturday, as dangerous heat swept across the American Southwest.

The National Weather Service in Phoenix reported a temperature of 114 degrees Fahrenheit, tying the record high for the date set back in 1918.

Las Vegas tied a record for the day set in 1956, with temperatures soaring to 109 F. The National Weather Service said there was a chance the high temperatures in both cities could rise even more.

In Colorado, Denver hit 100 F, tying a record set in 2013 for both the high temperature and the earliest calendar day to reach 100 F.

Temperatures in several inland areas of California reached triple digits by the afternoon, with a record high for June 11 of 122 F reached in Death Valley.

Excessive heat warnings and heat advisories were issued for parts of Northern California through the Central Valley and down to the southeastern deserts.

The National Weather Service also predicted 114 F in Palm Springs and temperatures around 100F across the San Joaquin Valley and the Sacramento area.

Heat was expected to extend to inland portions of the San Francisco Bay Area but most of the California coastal zones remained free of heat advisories.

The scorching heat in Northern California was expected to subside Saturday evening. Heat advisories in parts of Southern California were extended through Sunday.

Meteorologists warned of very high “heat risk” in south-central Arizona through the weekend. The high temperatures were likely to approach record-breaking territory — anywhere between 110 F and 115 F. They have urged the public to limit outdoor activities.

Parts of New Mexico and Texas also were also to see triple-digits.

Heat is part of the normal routine of summertime in the desert, but weather forecasters say that doesn’t mean people should feel at ease. Excessive heat causes more deaths in the U.S. than other weather-related disasters, including hurricanes, floods and tornadoes combined.

Scientists say more frequent and intense heat waves are likely in the future because of climate change and a deepening drought.

Son of former LA Dodger Steve Sax among 5 Marines killed Associated Press

Former Los Angeles Dodgers player Steve Sax has issued a statement saying that his 33-year-old son who had always dreamed of being a pilot was among five U.S. Marines killed during a training flight crash earlier this week in the California desert.

Capt. John J. Sax was among the aircrew of an Osprey tiltrotor aircraft that went down during training in a remote area in Imperial County, about 115 miles (185 kilometers) east of San Diego and about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Yuma, Arizona.

“It is with complete devastation that I announce that my precious son, Johnny was one of the five US Marines that perished on Wednesday, June 8, in the Osprey Military crash near San Diego,” Steve Sax said in a statement published Saturday by CBSLA-TV.

“For those of you that knew Johnny, you saw his huge smile, bright light, his love for his family, the Marines, the joy of flying airplanes and defending our country! He was my hero and the best man I know, there was no better person to defend our country.”

The former Dodger said his son had wanted to be a pilot since he was young and would talk about the types of planes that were flying overhead while playing in the outfield in Little League baseball.

“There was never any doubt from a young age that Johnny would be a pilot and his passion was to fly!” the statement said. “This loss will change my life forever and is a loss to not only the Marines but this world!”

Steve Sax played in the Major Leagues from 1981 to 1994, winning two world championships during his seven years as a second-baseman with the Dodgers. Fans, Major League Baseball and the team offered condolences on social media.

“The Los Angeles Dodgers are saddened to hear about the passing of Steve Sax’s son, John, and the five Marines who lost their lives in this week’s tragic helicopter accident. Our thoughts and condolences go out to their families and friends,” the Dodgers said in a tweet Saturday.

John J. Sax is survived by his wife, Amber, who is pregnant with their second child, and their 20-month-old daughter, said Dodgers spokesperson Steve Brener.

Sax, of Placer, California, was one of two pilots killed in the crash, along with Capt. Nicholas P. Losapio, 31, of Rockingham, New Hampshire.

Also killed were three tiltrotor crew chiefs: Cpl. Nathan E. Carlson, 21, of Winnebago, Illinois; Cpl. Seth D. Rasmuson, 21, of Johnson, Wyoming; and Lance Cpl. Evan A. Strickland, 19, of Valencia, New Mexico.

The Marines were based at Camp Pendleton and assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 364 of Marine Aircraft Group 39, part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing headquartered at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

The Osprey, a hybrid airplane and helicopter, flew in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but has been criticized by some as unsafe. It is designed to take off like a helicopter, rotate its propellers to a horizontal position and cruise like an airplane.

The cause of the crash was under investigation.

State to help with $150,000 funding to boost Ruidoso tourismAssociated Press

More than two months after being impacted by a huge wildfire, the Village of Ruidoso is looking to make a tourism comeback.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Friday that Ruidoso and the state Tourism Department are jointly earmarking $150,000 to help lure visitors to the southern New Mexico community.

Ruidoso is still recovering from the so-called McBride Fire that destroyed more than 200 homes and killed two people in April. The blaze, which burned 9.4 square miles (24 square kilometers), became fully contained a month ago.

The funding will focus on tourists in west Texas, a source of the most travelers to Ruidoso.

Ruidoso Director of Tourism Elizabeth Ritter says there is still a lot of scenery to enjoy despite trails still being restricted due to wildfire risk.

State tourism officials met with the residents of the mountain town last month to address concerns and ideas for recovery.

Most Hispanic US state weighs benefits of language programsBy Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press / Report for America

Jacqueline Powell and her fourth grade classmates toiled over pencil and paper to write a letter in Spanish about what they did in class this year.

Powell explained the assignment in perfect Spanish before struggling to translate the words to end her sentence. The 10-year-old charter school student raised her forearms to her temples in a show of mental effort, making her large round glasses seesaw up and down.

That struggle, fought every week at the New Mexico International School in Albuquerque, has put her speaking ability far ahead of some of her high school peers. It has allowed her to speak in Spanish with her grandmother, who is from Chihuahua, Mexico, and she has fostered a secret language between her and her mom, whose husband and step children can’t speak Spanish.

While dual language programs are offered in thousands of schools across the U.S., New Mexico is the only state where the right to learn in Spanish is laid out in the constitution.

Dual language programs like the one at the New Mexico International School are championed by Hispanic parents who want their children to cultivate cultural roots. They are also seen by education experts as the best way for English learners to excel in K-12 schools.

The question for lawmakers in the nation’s most heavily Hispanic state is why New Mexico’s dual language programs aren’t being used by the students who most need them.

Legislative analysts are expected in the coming weeks to release a report that will highlight challenges facing dual language and other multicultural programs. It will include a look at decades-old trends such as a lack of oversight by education officials, declining participation, and a reduction in the number of multicultural programs, said Legislative Finance Committee spokesman Jon Courtney.

The report also will acknowledge the lack of information about how well language programs are doing after two years without comprehensive academic testing due to the pandemic.

The number of dual language immersion programs has increased from 126 before the pandemic to 132 last year.

State officials are supposed to assess the programs every three years. But the New Mexico Public Education Department has done only one in-person visit and evaluated only one school over the past three years, said department spokeswoman Judy Robinson.

The department has started a series of forums for parents around the Hispanic Education Act, a state law that informs multicultural programs.

While there isn’t a consensus among educators as to how to best teach young children languages, a New Mexico court found in 2018 that well-run dual language programs are the “gold standard” for English learners.

The alternative, more popular in Arizona, is to separate children out for remedial instruction.

In New Mexico, English learners make up a larger share of dual language program participants. They comprise 63% of participants in the current school year, up from 53% last year.

At the New Mexico International School in Albuquerque, around half of students are Hispanic, like Jacqueline, and reflective of the city’s population.

“Many of their parents are trying to reclaim the language,” school principal Todd Knouse said.

English-speaking parents say they have an easier time learning about the benefits of dual language programs and jumping through the hoops to get into charter schools. The schools are free but don’t provide bussing.

“It’s almost like a privilege type of experience to get your kid into these programs because it does take a lot of research. Tracking down the programs, the distance of how long you’re willing to drive, the (admission) lottery,” said Mary Baldwin, 34, whose daughter attends the Albuquerque school.

“And then there’s so much shame that gets placed on the Spanish language or the culture itself,” she said. “Some families might not be aware that being bilingual is a huge strength not just culturally but also professionally.”

Baldwin immigrated to the U.S. from Honduras when she was 10. Her daughter is the same age now and is fluent enough to cook banana-leaf-wrapped tamales with her Spanish-speaking grandmother as a result of the dual language program.

Fans of New Mexico’s programs say they elevate Spanish-speakers’ skills and give them confidence in an environment where everyone is equal as they learn a new language. The programs also increase fluency and literacy in their home language.

“It’s generally beneficial to have two languages,” said Stephen Mandrgoc, a University of New Mexico historian who has studied bilingual programs in the southwest and oversees Spanish colonial heritage programs.

When it comes to languages spoken by New Mexico’s Native American tribes and pueblos, there are some state laws that protect student rights. Still, only two dual language programs are offered in Native American languages — both in Diné, the language of the Navajo people.

Some tribes like Jemez Pueblo face a more pressing existential threat to their language because of a small population and cultural taboos that limit the creation of language materials. Other tribes like Santa Clara Pueblo say underinvestment is a problem.

New Mexico officials have appropriated millions of dollars to support curriculum projects, but much of the funds go unspent. Advocates say one problem is the time in which grants must be spent, from less than a year to sometimes as short as a month before it reverts back to the state.



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