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New Mexico wildfires prompt precautions, new food assistance

Roz Brown

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(New Mexico News Connection) New Mexicans affected by recent wildfires and subsequent flooding may be eligible for Disaster Supplemental Nutritional Program benefits. The additional SNAP dollars will provide one month of groceries for individuals and families affected by the South Fork and Salt fires.

Srikanth Paladugu, environmental health epidemiology bureau chief for the New Mexico Department of Health, said those in wildfire-prone areas should always be prepared because the state's increased and persistent heat as well as strong winds can aggravate asthma and other respiratory issues in both children and adults.

Sign in the window of a store stating that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are accepted.

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"For example, during the 2022 Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire, we reported a significant increase in the number of emergency room visits compared to what it was in the same time frame in 2021," Paladugu noted.

The 2022 fires were the largest in state history. The recent fires have so far destroyed more than 1,400 structures, including 500 homes, and killed two people, according to state officials. Those affected in Lincoln and Otero counties can apply for D-SNAP benefits beginning  Wednesday. More information is available at 1-800-283-4465.

Paladugu pointed out the state has created a new "531 Visibility Tool," incorporating mileage and landmarks to help determine visibility if a wildfire is nearby and the need to seek shelter. He explained the method can also be used by event organizers, coaches and recreational leaders to decide if practice or the game should go on or be postponed.

"If you can't see landmarks that are about five miles away, then young children, and adults over 65 and pregnant women and people with lung and heart disease should minimize their outdoor activities," Paladugu advised.

He added at any time, regardless of the visibility, those who feel they are having health effects from smoke should take precautions to avoid further exposure and consult a health care professional as needed.