US Forest Service planned burn caused largest wildfire in New Mexico

A wildfire in northern New Mexico that has destroyed at least 330 homes and displaced thousands of people was caused by a blaze planned ...


A wildfire in northern New Mexico that has destroyed at least 330 homes and displaced thousands of people was caused by a blaze planned by the US Forest Service, federal fire investigators said Friday.

The Calf Canyon Fire broke out of containment lines and merged with the Hermits Peak Fire, which was also caused by out-of-control planned burning, to form the largest wildfire in the history of the New Mexico.

The combined Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire has burned more than 312,000 acres, threatening isolated mountain villages and forcing thousands to evacuate, sometimes repeatedly, over the past two months.

The fire was 47% contained Friday morning, the National Forest Fire Coordination Group said. He warned that the Memorial Day holiday weekend could pose more challenges for firefighters due to increased traffic and recreational activities that could lead to fires in dry and hot weather. Firefighters warned on the use of, among other things, campfires and wood-burning stoves.

Planned burns, or prescribed fires, are important forest fire management tools that burn vegetation to limit potential fuel for such fires. They rarely get out of control, officials said.

Forest Service investigators said the Calf Canyon Fire emerged from a “heap burn” that had been inactive from January to April, when smoke was reported in the area of ​​the burn, which had ended on January 29.

Crews monitored the 1.5-acre blaze to make sure there were no signs of flames or heat around its edges, investigators said. On April 19 – 10 days after the smoke was reported – the fire reignited and escaped its containment lines.

On April 22, high winds caused the fire to spread and merge with the Hermits Peak Fire, which the Forest Service said in April had also been caused by an escaped prescribed burn. The Forest Service did not say how it lost control of the two fires.

Santa Fe National Forest Supervisor Debbie Cress said in a report that the agency was “100% focused on suppressing these fires”.

“Our commitment is to manage the public lands entrusted to us by improving the resilience of the forest to the many stressors it faces, including larger and hotter wildfires, historic levels of drought, rising temperatures, insects and diseases,” said Cress.

In response to the fire investigators’ findings, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said the federal government needs to review its fire management practices and how they address climate change.

“This is a first step toward the federal government taking full responsibility for the largest wildfire in state history, which has destroyed hundreds of homes, displaced tens of thousands of New -Mexicans and cost the state and local governments millions of dollars,” she said. A declaration.

In the western United States, wildfires are burning more frequently and intensely, and wildfire seasons are getting longer, reducing the windows for carrying out prescribed burns. Recent research has suggested that heat and drought associated with human-induced global warming are the main reasons for the increase in larger and stronger wildfires.

Lisa Dale, a lecturer at Columbia Climate School, said prescribed burns are the best tools available to reduce the long-term risk of wildfires. They remove vegetation that would otherwise fuel an unwanted fire and recognize that forests depend on fire to be healthy.

“I hope the consequences of this incident will not lead to long-term policy changes that will continue to limit our ability to use this tool,” Dr. Dale said.

She said climate change has made it more difficult to use prescribed fires, as fire seasons have shrunk from about three months to seven to eight months. The increasing intensity of the fires has also made it more difficult for fire managers to intervene.

Chief of the Forest Service, Randy Moore, said last week that the agency would suspend its use of prescribed burns on agency lands.

Mr. Moore said that during the hiatus, the agency would conduct a 90-day review of its protocols and practices for prescribed fires. The break coincides with the time of year when planned burns are less frequent. More than 90% of the fires predicted by the agency take place between September and May.

Moore said the Forest Service oversees an average of 4,500 prescribed fires each year and “99.84 percent of prescribed fires go as planned.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: US Forest Service planned burn caused largest wildfire in New Mexico
US Forest Service planned burn caused largest wildfire in New Mexico
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