When the U.S. Forest Service started an intentional fire in the Santa Fe National Forest in early April, the aim was to reduce the risk of a destructive blaze. But the agency relied on poor weather data and failed to understand how climate change had dried out the landscape, ultimately setting a fire that would explode into the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history.
“Climate change is leading to conditions on the ground we have never encountered,” Forest Service chief Randy Moore said.
The Calf Canyon/Hermit’s Creek fire, which began as two blazes and combined to burn more than 341,000 acres and torch hundreds of homes, has become the latest flash point in the debate over whether authorities should use prescribed burns — intentional fires meant to thin out flammable vegetation to lower the risk of more damaging blazes.
The fire was set “under much drier conditions than were recognized.”.
The report also found that numerous details about weather conditions were “overlooked or misrepresented,” and noted some automated weather stations nearby weren’t functioning.
Those setting the fire also “did not cease ignitions or suppress the prescribed fire after clear indications of high fire intensity and receptive fuels.”