ALBUQUERQUE, NM (AP) — Many miscalculations, wrong models and a lack of understanding of how dry things happen in the Southwest have resulted in the largest number of wildfire threats in New Mexico’s recorded history. Fire risk reduced, U.S. The Forest Service said on Tuesday.
The agency quietly posted an 80-page review detailing the plan’s missteps and conditions on the ground as the crew ignited the scheduled fire in early April. The report said officials planning the operation underestimated the amount of firewood and vegetation available to supply water to the flames, exceptionally dry conditions and rural villages that would be at risk if things went awry. .
Within hours of lighting a test fire that April day, several fires were reported outside control lines and not having enough resources or water to put them out.
“The devastating impact of this fire to the communities and livelihoods of those affected in New Mexico demands this level of review so that we can better understand how this tragic event unfolded,” wrote US Forest Chief Randy Moore. “I cannot overstate how heartbreaking these effects are on communities and individuals.”
As of Tuesday, the fire had burned more than 533 square miles (1,380 square kilometers), making it the largest fire to burn this spring in the US. Decades of drought and climate change caused warmer climates to reach historic levels.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the number of acres burned so far this year is two and a half times the national average for the past 10 years. So far 31,000 wildfires have burned more than 5,000 square miles (12,950 square kilometers) in the United States.
Anger and frustration are boiling between residents and elected officials in northern New Mexico, where several hundred homes have been destroyed and thousands displaced.
Many mountains have turned to ash and the once giant ponderosa pine trees have been turned into burnt toothpicks. Places considered sacred by animal husbandry and farming families who have called the area home for generations have been wiped out.
US Representative Teresa Léger Fernandez described the Forest Service review as incredibly disturbing, pointing to a number of calculations errors in planning the scheduled burn.
“The failures of the Forest Service destroyed many prosperous and proud New Mexico communities,” she said in a statement. “Rain may cause second flood disaster. As noted in the report, the Forest Service has put many homes, communities, lives, historic sites and watersheds at risk.
The report stated that the crew believed they were within approved limits for the planned burn and that they had plans to build a line where they could check on the progress of the fire and see if the parameters were exceeded. If you did, you could have stopped the ignition.
But according to a Forest Service analysis of fuel and weather information, the fire was burning in much drier conditions than the crew understood.
“Persistent drought, limited snow and rain, fine fuel accumulation, and burn unit preparedness increase the risk of fuel loading escape,” the report said.
A combination of on-site weather forecasts and on-site observations were the only methods of weather collection. The days before the ignition of the scheduled fires were described as a “weather roller coaster” and the agency said more data should have been used to assess the conditions.
The report also noted that managers failed to accurately assess the complexity of planned burns, providing a picture that indicates the risk has been reduced when in fact it was not.
President Joe Biden recently flew over the fire and stopped briefly in New Mexico to reassure residents that the federal government would take responsibility for its role in quelling the fires.