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U.S. Forest Service resumes prescribed burns after pause

A fire burns in a forest full of green trees with white and grey smoking filling the top left of the photo.
Flick/NPS Climate Change Response

The U.S. Forest Service is resuming prescribed burns after two of them combined in April to form the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history.

Prescribed burns are intentionally set and managed to help reduce the risk of larger, more destructive wildfires. They can also help revitalize forests where certain tree species require fires to open their cones.

Forest Service Chief Randy Moore halted prescribed burns back in May when the Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak fires leveled 340,000 acres, destroying hundreds of homes according to the New York Times.

A review of the fires found conditions were much drier than crews initially had anticipated, allowing flames to escape.

Moore announced several steps his agency will take to limit these fires from burning out of control.

Those recommendations include requiring crews to use the most up-to-date forecasts in their assessments, only allowing burns to take place within 24 hours of approval and creating new training curriculum.

“These actions will ensure prescribed fire plans are up to date with the most recent science and key factors and conditions are closely evaluated the day of the prescribed burn,” he said in a video.

Of the roughly 4,500 prescribed burns set annually by the Forest Service, Moore said just 0.16% of them get out of control.

“We can never guarantee prescribed fires won’t escape because they’re a risk when we use this tool,” he said. “The alternative is more large and destructive wildfires like we’ve seen the past two decades.”

Climate change is only intensifying the spread of such massive blazes, along with decades of fire suppression and overgrown forests.

The agency’s new plans are expected to be released by December.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!