Culprit in NM's Biggest-Ever Fire: US Forest Service

Planned burns combined into massive forest fire
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted May 30, 2022 7:57 AM CDT
US Forest Service's Planned Burns Didn't Go as Planned
Fire rages along a ridgeline east of highway 518 near the Taos County line as firefighters from all over the country converge on Northern New Mexico to battle the Hermit's Peak and Calf Canyon fires on May 13, 2022.   (Jim Weber/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)

(Newser) – A massive New Mexico wildfire that has stampeded through more than 330 homes and nearly 500 acres wasn't the result of a carelessly tossed cigarette (or firework), but rather the deliberate machinations of the United States Forest Service in an effort to, well, to avoid massive wildfires. As USA Today reports, federal investigators say in a new report that two planned burns got out of control—including one to the east of Santa Fe that was declared out of control on April 6 and one from the winter that lay dormant through several snowstorms—then merged to form the current blaze that's occupying some 3,000 firefighters and $5 million in firefighting costs per day. The total bill thus far: more than $132 million.

"The destruction these two fires caused is immeasurable and will be felt for generations," says Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, who's sponsoring a bill to reimburse residents and businesses affected by the blaze. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called the report a "first step toward the federal government taking full responsibility" for the fire; she's asking FEMA to pony up 100% of recovery costs. "The pain and suffering of New Mexicans caused by the actions of the US Forest Service—an agency that is intended to be a steward of our lands—is unfathomable," she said, per the Hill. Meanwhile, the Forest Service has announced a 90-day pause on its planned burn program while it reviews protocols. (Read more forest fire stories.)

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