US forestry agency admits to setting fire in New Mexico, nearly the size of London

One of two New Mexico fires that combined to become the largest wildfire in the state was started by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the agency has admitted.

USFS said Friday that the Calf Canyon fire started with a planned burn it had started over the winter, but turned into a “sleep fire” that went on smoldering undetected.

It said the Calf Canyon Fire was caused by a “pyre” of branches that the agency thought burned out on April 9, but flared up again ten days later on April 19, escaping the containment lines.

On April 22, the agency said a “wind event” caused the fire to spread significantly and the Calf Canyon Fire to merge with the Hermits Peak Fire, which was also reportedly caused by an escaped planned burn.

The huge fire would be over at the beginning of April

(Santa Fe New Mexican)

But it kept burning and melted into another fire

(Santa Fe New Mexican)

The two fires combined destroyed more than 1,263 square kilometers of mountain forests and valleys, nearly the size of London, and destroyed hundreds of homes.

“Forest Service fire investigators determined that the Calf Canyon Fire in the Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger District of the Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) was caused by a pyre from January that lay dormant below the surface during three previous winter snow events. resurface in April,” the agency noted in a statement.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement that the pain and suffering caused by the actions of the USFS are “unfathomable”.

The wildfire reportedly destroyed forests used by Native American communities for centuries.

“I appreciate that the US Forest Service is taking responsibility for the actions that have created this dire crisis. It is clear that the federal government needs to take a close look at its fire management practices and ensure they take into account a rapidly changing climate,” Ms Grisham said in a series of tweets.

Planned burns have been recommended by some experts as a science-backed method to remove dry vegetation and prevent catastrophic wildfires.

Firefighters clear brush and debris from cabins along Highway 518 near New Mexico’s Taos County line

(Santa Fe New Mexican)

Indigenous groups also have a long history of using deliberate fire to create controlled burns to reduce the risk of wildfires.

However, experts, including those at NASA, say a longer wildfire season, as well as extreme heat and dry weather exacerbated by climate change, are making it more difficult to use deliberate fires as a preventative method.

“The Santa Fe National Forest is 100 percent focused on fighting these fires with the support of Type 1 incident management teams who are fully prepared to manage complex, high-risk situations,” SFNF Supervisor Debbie Cress said in a statement.

“Our commitment is to manage the public lands entrusted to us by improving forest resilience to the many stressors they face, including larger, hotter wildfires, historic levels of drought, rising temperatures, and insects and disease.” she added.

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