The Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon fires merged to become the biggest fire in New Mexico History. The Hermits Peak fire started originally as a prescribed burn on April 6. The Calf Canyon fire started as a pile burn in January that remained dormant under the surface until April 9. Conditions were just right on that day for the fire to re-ignite.
These fires and questions about how the Forest Service lost control prompted the agency to pause prescribed burns nationwide in May. Officials said the burns are an important tool in protecting communities.
Officials said prescribed fires aren’t safety-guaranteed situations, and they can’t promise a burn won’t escape. Overgrown trees, climate change, and homes in the forest contribute to mega-fires, they said.
The Forest Service unveiled a 107-page plan that acknowledged the mistakes made and offered recommendations for fixing them. The biggest, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said, is making sure they don’t rely on previous methods of fire control. As the climate changes, officials need to learn to adapt, he said.
The Hermits Peak Fire was a prescribed burn that was three years behind schedule, and over that time, drought worsened, warmer temperatures came forward, and there was less snowpack. All of those things weren’t properly re-calculated in the weeks leading to the burn.
Under the new plan, more weather checks will be required. There will be a smaller window to burn when one is approved, and there will be more training for crews carrying it out. While prescribed burns remain controversial, the forest chief said they need to move forward in a responsible way.