ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - With another explosive fire season expected this spring and summer, a new U.S. Forest Service policy to let some wildfires burn raises concerns among East Mountains residents.
But that's the new policy that surfaced late last month in a letter from Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to stop attacking all fires and let some fires burn.
"With so little precipitation--at this point in time, we're way down--so it's a concern for all of us," East Mountains resident Sherry Lee told KRQE News 13.
The Forest Service is downplaying the change, but still it's a concern for those who live in and around areas susceptible to fire.
Last year's fire season brought some of the most destructive wildfires in state history . The Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire--the largest ever in New Mexico--burned almost 300,000 acres in the Gila National Forest and destroyed several homes and seasonal cabins in the Willow Creek area.
The Little Bear Fire burned more than 240 homes near Ruidoso.
Both blazes began as small lightning-caused fires high in a national forest.
"We have had very heavy fire conditions for a number of years, and they are not any better this year," Virginia Kay Massara, who lives in the East Mountains, said.
The east side the Sandia Mountains with its extensive population is high on the list of places at risk for a destructive fire.
"That concerns me a little bit," said Tom Dittman. "Fires thinning forests naturally, that's probably OK. But anytime that the fires potentially threaten the community or livestock, whatever, I get concerned about that."
According to the Forest Service there is no reason to panic. Tidwell says it's an "evolution of the science and expertise" of fighting wildfires.
Those who support the change say letting smaller fires burn allows for a natural way to rid the landscape of dangerous fuels.
The change backtracks from a more aggressive approach instituted last year to jump on all fires except those granted special status before they grew out of control.
The Forest Service ended up going $400 million over budget.
"If it gets dangerous they're going to do it anyway, but just use emergency funding to do it or whatever," East Mountains resident David West said. "I think they'll still fight the fire if it gets to be dangerous."
The Forest Service oversees almost 200 million acres in 43 states.
In a statement Tidwell says the decision is only a slight change in direction based on conditions that change from season to season.
New Mexico and Colorado reported record fire seasons last year.
The New Mexico State Forestry Division told News 13 it's too early for the agency to comment on the federal policy.
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