EDITORIAL: 2nd Forest Service blunder makes clear who’s responsible – New Mexico fires

Las Vegas Mayor Louie Trujillo says it was a “mindblow” that forest officials started the Hermits Peak Fire via a controlled burn gone wrong on a windy day in early April. Learning last week the Calf Canyon Fire erupted after a U.S. Forest Service “sleeper fire” in January was a second mindblow to the mayor and others.

We now know the Forest Service caused both the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fires, which have merged in the Las Vegas area to become the largest wildfire in state history.

Mayor Trujillo, who lost a second home in Pendaries Village and a family cabin in Gallinas, called the news “shocking,” “impactful” and “disconcerting.” That’s why an independent investigation is essential to determine whether protocols were followed, and if so, how those protocols should be changed.

We hope the governor, attorney general and congressional delegation are on this. New Mexicans need to know how the federal agency responsible for managing 20 million acres of forest and grasslands in New Mexico and Arizona, 2,750 miles of streams, 37,900 acres of lakes and 25% of New Mexico’s fishing habitat could appear so incompetent

“… It also makes me wonder if the federal government should step forward and make it good,” Trujillo says.

Yes, and in no uncertain terms.

The Calf Canyon Fire was the result of a Forest Service “pile fire” that was ignited in January and continued to burn underground until it reignited above ground on April 9. The “pile” was made up of natural debris the Forest Service had cleared from an area. Days before, the Hermits Peak Fire escaped containment. Both were initially Forest Service “controlled” burns, leading agency head Randy Moore to put a 90-day pause on prescribed burns across the nation starting May 20.

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