ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday the federal government must do more to help recover from a devastating wildfire that charred several hundred homes and destroying the livelihoods of many rural New Mexico residents.

The largest fire in the state’s recorded history was sparked earlier this year by two government-planned prescribed burns. It forced the evacuation of thousands of residents from villages in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range as it burned over more than 530 square miles (1,373 square kilometers) of the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

The fire forced the U.S. Forest Service to review its fire prevention policies before resuming operations. Experts said the environmental consequences would likely span generations.

After a weekend campaigning for Democratic House candidates in New Mexico, Pelosi met with more than a dozen residents affected by the fire.

She hinted that a government spending bill pending in Congress could serve as a “very big start” to make residents whole. She would not put a price tag on the relief package and said it would be a matter of identifying the right sources from which to draw funding as everything from agriculture to water quality and small businesses, was affected.

“I’m sorry for what you’ve been through, grateful for how long this is going to take,” Pelosi told residents gathered around the table. There were farmers, local elected officials, high school students, forestry experts and irrigation specialists.

Some residents spoke of sleepless nights as they worried whether the next rainstorm would carry more ash and debris from the arid mountainsides. They spoke of the difficulties of moving as some bridges were washed away by floods after a fire. Some areas still lack telephone lines and there are streams where they fished that have become polluted.

Many residents have also expressed frustration with federal emergency managers when they call for help, saying they don’t understand the culture of rural New Mexico.

“There was an acknowledgment that this was preventable and that puts it to shame, but it gives us all the more reason to learn from it immediately,” Pelosi said, adding that FEMA will have to tone down its response because many owners don’t. have no deeds or other documents required. paperwork.

U.S. Representative Teresa Leger Fernández, a Democrat who represents the region charred by the wildfire, invited Pelosi to New Mexico to hear from the families. She was a driving force behind legislation to fully compensate those who suffered personal injury or loss of property, business or income as a result of the fire.

“Whenever we hear the stories directly from those who have lived through them, we are touched in our hearts,” Leger Fernández said, “and when we are touched in our hearts, we are strengthened in our resolve, and that goes on. is produced once again today.”

For the region’s economic hub – the community of Las Vegas, New Mexico – the fire has put drinking water supplies in an even more precarious position. Drought and aging infrastructure were already causing problems, but debris and ash rolling down the Gallinas River forced the city to seek emergency funding to install a temporary treatment system.

Mayor Louie Trujillo reiterated that “the government was 100% responsible for this monster disaster”. He asked Pelosi to make sure the relief legislation passes through Congress.