NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Thursday marks one year since the start of the Hermits Peak fire, which later merged with the Calf Canyon fire to become the largest wildfire ever recorded in New Mexico history.
“I was in Washington D.C. when it broke out and that feeling of helplessness, my parents were evacuated a couple of times, two different instances, and not even being able to be here to help them evacuate was pretty tough, pretty difficult thing to deal with.” For Shaun Sanchez, the Forest Supervisor for the Santa Fe National Forest, the crisis hit home since he’s originally from Mora County. Ultimately, the fire changed his career path bringing him home to New Mexico to help spur change. “Did we learn from what occurred this last year? I would say we have,” said Sanchez.
After the fires, the Forest Service ordered a review, and that led to significant changes in federal prescribed burning. They’ve added fencing and more equipment such as portable weather stations, even timing will look different. “In the past, there might have been longer-term approvals, a week-long approval up to month-long approvals to conduct a burn, now we’re only doing day-by-day approvals,” said Sanchez.
New technology will also play a role moving forward like infrared technologies with drones to find where heat sources might still be. The Calf Canyon Fire started when a Forest Service burn from January reignited in April. “In the past, you can walk up and we see here’s where the pile was, there’s no smoke, there’s no visual flames, fire’s good. Well, come to find out, when you start putting thermal imagery, there’s still heat under there,” said Sanchez.
More fire crews will also be on standby within 30 minutes of any burn, with someone checking daily to make sure the fire is where it should be.
The Governor signed Senate Bill 21 this week. That bans prescribed burns on days when the National Weather Service issues a red flag warning. While that law doesn’t apply to the feds, they plan to follow it. “The red flag warning – our state partners don’t want to be burning, they don’t want us to be burning, the community doesn’t want us to be burning, well we don’t need to be burning,” said Sanchez.
The Santa Fe National Forest will hold a Facebook Live to discuss prescribed burns in more depth. That’s set for April 21.