Citing extreme wildfire conditions, the U.S. Forest Service is suspending prescribed burns while it conducts a review of its practices, the agency chief announced Friday.
The move comes a month after a prescribed burn – which is used to reduce wildfire risk – spread across its border in New Mexico and became the largest wildfire currently ongoing in the United States. United States.
The Forest Service will conduct a 90-day review of protocols, decision support tools and practices ahead of scheduled operations this fall, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said in a statement.
“Our main objective in engaging prescribed fires and wildfires is to keep the communities involved safe,” Moore said.
“The communities we serve and our employees deserve the best tools and science to support them as we continue to navigate towards reducing the risk of severe wildfires in the future,” he said.
The announcement of a pause came as much of the South West was under “red flag,” or wildfire risk, warnings due to hot, dry conditions.
The Hermits Peak Fire began April 6 and occurred after “unexpectedly erratic winds” ignited several localized fires outside of prescribed burn boundaries, the Forest Service said.
The Calf Canyon Fire started to the west of this fire on April 19 and its cause is listed as under investigation. The two fires then merged and burned more than 303,000 acres.
The fire was 40% contained on Friday. More than 2,000 firefighters were battling the blaze. At least 277 structures, including 166 homes, were destroyed in the blaze, the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office said.
Moore previously announced a review specifically about the Hermits Peak Fire.
He said wildfires are becoming more extreme due to climate change and drought, and he called prescribed burns an essential tool to reduce the risk of wildfires. “99.84% of prescribed fires proceed as planned,” Moore said in Friday’s statement.
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said she supports the pause, but also said well-managed prescribed burns are important tools.
“It is essential that federal agencies update and modernize these practices in response to climate change, because what were once considered extreme conditions are now much more common – the situation now unfolding in New Mexico demonstrates without any doubt the serious consequences of negligence. to do it,” she said in a statement.