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Miscalculations, mistakes blamed for the massive fire in New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, NM – US Forest Service employees made several miscalculations, used inaccurate models and underestimated how dry conditions were in the Southwest, resulting in a planned fire to reduce wildfire hazards becoming the largest fire in New Zealand’s recorded history Mexico led, the agency said on Tuesday.

The agency quietly posted one 80-page review It details the planning errors and conditions on the ground when crews lit the prescribed fire in early April. The report said officials who planned the operation underestimated the amount of timber and vegetation available to fuel the blazes, the exceptionally dry conditions, and the rural villages and water supplies under threat would be if things went wrong.

Within hours of lighting a test fire that April day, multiple point fires were reported outside the containment lines and there were insufficient resources or water to contain them.

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“The devastating impact of this fire on the communities and livelihoods of those affected in New Mexico required a review at this level to ensure we understand how this tragic event unfolded,” wrote US Forest Chief Randy Moore. “I cannot stress enough how heartbreaking this impact is on communities and individuals.”

As of Tuesday, the fire had charred more than 533 square miles (1,380 square kilometers), making it the largest fire to burn in the United States this spring. It comes during a particularly wild time of year when fire danger in overgrown forests in the west is reaching historic levels due to decades of drought and warmer weather due to climate change.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the number of acres burned so far this year is more than two and a half times the national average over the past 10 years. To date, 31,000 wildfires have burned more than 5,000 square miles (12,950 square kilometers) across the United States.

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Anger and frustration simmered among residents and elected officials in northern New Mexico, where hundreds of homes were destroyed and thousands of residents displaced.

Many mountainsides have been reduced to ash and once towering ponderosa pines have been reduced to charred toothpicks. Places considered sacred by the rancher and farming families who have called the region home for generations have been obliterated.

US Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández called the Forest Service investigation incredibly troubling and pointed to the numerous errors in the calculations that went into planning the mandatory burn.

“The failure of the forest service has devastated many wealthy and proud communities in New Mexico,” she said in a statement. “The rains could cause a second flood disaster. As the report notes, the Forest Service has endangered numerous homes, communities, lives, historic sites and watersheds.”

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The report said the crew believed they were within approved limits for the planned burn and had a plan to build a line where they could check the progress of the fire and stop the ignition if the parameters have been exceeded.

But the fire was burning in much drier conditions than the crew understood, according to the Forest Service’s analysis of fuel and weather information.

“Persistent drought, limited snow and rain, fine fuel accumulations, and fuel loading from combustion unit preparation all contributed to increasing the risk of escape,” the report said.

A mix of spot weather forecasts and on-site observations were the only methods of weather collection used. The days before the mandated fire was lit were described as a “weather rollercoaster ride,” and the agency said more data should have been used to assess the conditions.

The report also said managers could not accurately assess the complexity of the planned fire, providing a picture that suggested risks were being reduced when in fact they were not.

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President Joe Biden recently flew over the fire and stopped briefly in New Mexico to assure residents that the federal government would take responsibility for their role in causing the blaze.

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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/21/miscalculations-errors-blamed-for-massive-new-mexico-blaze/ Miscalculations, mistakes blamed for the massive fire in New Mexico

Sarah Y. Kim

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