Intentionally set fires, called “prescribed burns” are on hold everywhere in the United States for the next 90 days, while the Forest Service prepares a review of their “protocols, decision-making tools and practices.” According to Chief Randy Moore, conditions are too extreme over most of the southwest to continue operations. So, now is a great time to figure out what went wrong recently in New Mexico, before they gear back up for the fall season.
Planned fires a bad idea
Planned fires are a bad idea, at least for now. Dry, windy conditions are just right for wildfires to start and they don’t need any help from the Forest Service for that, Chief Moore explained on Friday, May 20.
“Our primary goal,” he notes, “is to ensure the safety of the communities involved.” That’s why the service does the prescribed burns in the first place. Not only that, the teams are all locals.
“Our employees who are engaging in prescribed fire operations are part of these communities across the nation,” Moore’s statement declared.
“The communities we serve, and our employees, deserve the very best tools and science supporting them as we continue to navigate toward reducing the risk of severe wildfires in the future.” They intentionally started one of the two fires in New Mexico which merged into one megafire. It’s still blazing.
As news outlets report, the Forest Service “has been facing much criticism for the prescribed fire in New Mexico that escaped its containment lines in April and joined with another blaze to form what is now the largest fire burning in the U.S.”
Moore pushes back by arguing that “in 99.84% of cases, prescribed fires go as planned and they remain a valuable tool for reducing the threat.”
California didn’t use them
The whole reason for intentionally starting a forest fire is to clear out the dead trees and brush, which serves as fuel in overgrown forests.
As California learned in recent years, allowing that to build up, by not burning it away once in a while, causes really extreme and deadly fires when they inevitably get started on their own.
Across the nation, “more than 5,700 wildland firefighters were battling 16 un-contained large fires that had charred over a half-million acres of dry forest and grassland,” National Inter-agency Fire Center statistics verify.
That monster burning in New Mexico has “blackened more than 474 square miles.” State officials relate that “they expect the number of homes and other structures that have burned to rise to more than 1,000 as more assessments are done.”
Another big blaze in Texas “forced the temporary evacuation of the historic town of Buffalo Gap.” Fires in the area are around 25% contained after burning more than two dozen structures and charring more than 15 square miles of juniper and mesquite brush.
After they get done with the final analysis, the plan is to correct whatever went wrong in their strategy in April so it doesn’t happen again. Prescribed burns are just as important as ever and will continue, after it’s safe again weather-wise.