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New Mexico Fires: Clinton Administration Moves to Secure Money for Victims, Explain Cause of BlazeAired May 18, 2000 - 1:03 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Two weeks after a so-called "prescribed burn" became a monstrous wildfire in and around Los Alamos, New Mexico, the Clinton administration is moving now on two fronts. In Washington this hour, White House chief of staff John Podesta is meeting with members of Congress, among them New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici, on the issue of money for the hundreds of families who've been burned out of their homes.
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JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The administration will work to ensure that all that have sustained losses in this fire are fully compensated. We're consulting with Congress now on what's the best approach for getting compensation to people as quickly as possible.
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WATERS: In Santa Fe, meanwhile, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt prepares to explain how the fire came to be set even though a weather forecast had warned conditions were especially bad. Secretary Babbitt is due to release his preliminary report at 3:30 p.m. Eastern, 12:30 Pacific. CNN will bring you that news conference live.
In the meantime, CNN's Martin Savidge now joins us with the latest on the fire and the firestorm of controversy.
Martin, what's new?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, first of all, word that the U.S. government is considering a package that would fully compensate victims is bound to be welcome news for them. The question still in their mind is when?
Meanwhile, we are expecting a preliminary report out today on the cause of this particular fire. As we wait for that, the battle against the wildfire is still going on. Firefighters say they have made a lot of progress. The blaze is about 60 percent contained. It has now consumed over 47,000 acres. It is the largest wildfire in New Mexico history, and the cost of fighting that fire is now in excess of $6 million. Of course, that does not include the damage figure.
Meanwhile, one local forestry expert is concerned that people are too fixated on trying to lay the blame and are missing out on the big picture.
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BILL ARMSTRONG, U.S. FOREST SERVICE: Rather reflecting on who's to blame or why it happened, let's reflect on trying to keep it from happening again, because the conditions we have out there are still there.
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SAVIDGE: Bill Armstrong actually wrote a report back in 1998 in which he said there was a very high probability of a large wildfire in the Los Alamos area within the next five years. Turns out that he was right. However, he anticipated the cause was probably going to come from nature in the form of lightning. He maintains that even if you removed all of the people from this area, there would still be huge wildfires.
Meanwhile, the preliminary document is expected to be out at 3:30 Eastern time here in Santa Fe. That document said to be about 50 pages in length. It does contain a summary, and it is still subject to further review by another panel.
So as this document comes out, the people of Los Alamos try to put their lives back together, and the firefighters try to put out the blaze that began on May 4.
Reporting live, Martin Savidge, CNN, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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