Two fires that merged to create the largest wildfire in New Mexico history have both been traced to prescribed burns set by U.S. forest managers as preventative measures, federal investigators announced Friday.
The findings shift responsibility more squarely toward the U.S. Forest Service for initiating a natural disaster that has destroyed at least 330 homes as flames raged through nearly 500 square miles (1,300 square kilometers) of high-altitude pine forests and meadows. The wildfire also has displaced thousands of residents from rural villages with Spanish-colonial roots and high poverty rates, while unleashing untold environmental damage.
Roughly 3,000 firefighters, along with water-dropping planes and helicopters, continue to fight the blaze as it approaches mountain resorts and Native American communities. Firefighting costs already surpass $132 million, climbing by $5 million a day.
“The destruction these two fires caused is immeasurable and will be felt for generations,” said Leger Fernández, sponsor of a bill that would reimburse residents and businesses routed by the fire.
The Forest Service has not yet released detailed planning documents for the original prescribed burns that might indicate whether fire protocols were followed.
Officials’ prescribed burns caused New Mexico fire that’s scorched 500 square miles, report finds – CBS NewsOfficials’ prescribed burns caused New Mexico fire that’s scorched 500 square miles, report finds – CBS News