NATIONAL NEWS

US restarts burns of forest fuel, paused after runaway blaze

Sep 10, 2022, 1:49 PM | Updated: 2:08 pm
Smoky skies in the Salt Lake valley seen from the Huntsman Center. (Photo by Alexis Williams)...
Smoky skies in the Salt Lake valley seen from the Huntsman Center. (Photo by Alexis Williams)
(Photo by Alexis Williams)

SANTA FE, N.M. — The U.S. Forest Service is resuming its practice of intentionally lighting fires to clear brush and small trees from forested areas nationwide after a three-month hiatus to review the risks of runaway wildfires under increasingly severe climate conditions, the agency announced Thursday.

The prescribed fire program was put on hold in late May in the midst of a devastating wildfire sparked by the federal government near Las Vegas, New Mexico. The flames burned across more than 500 square miles (1,300 square kilometers) through remote communities in the southern reaches of the Rocky Mountains.

Smoky skies could be persistent problem in Utah this fall

Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said prescribed burns will require new safeguards such as same-day authorization to keep pace with evolving weather and ground conditions.

He said the Forest Service will adopt mandatory tactics, taken from an in-depth review and public consultation process, that include a more robust scientific analysis of burn plans and a final on-site evaluation of the potential for human error linked to fatigue or inexperience.

Permission to light fires and other communications will be standardized to avoid missteps, amid efforts to learn from the small share of prescribed fires that escape control.
“It’s our due diligence and I can’t overstate that,” Moore told The Associated Press. “Every time one of these fires happened, like the one down in New Mexico, you know, we lose trust and credibility in the communities that we serve and so we have to do this right.”

Moore said the agency won’t back away from intentional burns that he sees as a crucial tool in reducing the buildup of combustible material on forest floors and grasslands.

“Our climate is changing and we have the science to back that up,” Moore said. “We need to increase the amount of work that we’re doing by up to four times. We do feel that if we want to make a difference on that landscape, between forest thinning and prescribed burning, we really need to ramp it up. And we need to do it in a way that is safe, in a way that really instills public trust.”

By the end of the year, the agency also wants to expand training not only for Forest Service staff but also community members who could be certified to participate directly in controlled wildfires.

To instill greater accountability, Moore said he will soon designate a specific Forest Service member at the national level to oversee implementation of the new requirements and tactics for prescribed burning.

Many forestry experts outside the federal government say prescribed burns need to be accompanied by sufficient oversight and new scientific tools for modeling of fire behavior.

Owen Burney, director of the John T. Harrington Forestry Research Center at New Mexico State University, said the Forest Service could instill greater trust in prescribed burns with independent oversight from outside the agency — not just Forest Service administrators.

“I don’t think the Forest Service should be self-serving,” Harrington said. “What they need to have is external advisers.”

Jennifer Carbajal, who lived in Las Vegas as the government-sparked wildfire skirted the city, said she no longer considers prescribed burns viable after seeing people left homeless by the fire and the debris-choked flooding afterward.

“Everything needs to be reevaluated in light of the climate. Everything is getting exponentially worse,” she said. “I don’t think burning — prescribed burns — should be a tool in the kit anymore.”

The Forest Service typically ignites 4,500 prescribed fires a year, aimed at treating more than 2,000 square miles (5,200 square kilometers) across the National Forest system. Very few of the fires escape control — a fraction of 1% by Forest Service calculations.

Anticipated changes to the prescribe burn program also will be geared toward economic development and the possible introduction of new composite building products made from small diameter trees and wood particles, products that might incentivize better forest management and create local jobs.

Las Vegas resident Elmo Baca, a movie theater owner and chairman of a community foundation overseeing wildfire relief funds, said people with a lifetime of knowledge about local forests and weather conditions feel left out of decisions on prescribed burns.

“I would hope that going forward that the Forest Service would be more sensitive and cognizant of local people and their knowledge of the land,” he said. “I like the idea of them training people outside of the Forest Service.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

FORT MYERS, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 03: Members of the City of Miami Florida Task Force 2 Search and Resc...
Cary Schwanitz

Donating blood is one way to support people affected by Hurricane Ian

When Hurricane Ian plowed across Florida last week it wiped out buildings, marinas, and other areas. It also destroyed blood donation centers and now Utah's help is needed.
16 hours ago
A worker carries a Christmas tree at Sorghum Mill Christmas Tree Farm in Edmond, Oklahoma, U.S., De...
Parija Kavilanz, CNN Business

Expect to pay more for a Christmas tree this year

Christmas tree farms say to expect to pay more for that perfect fir, pine or spruce compared to last year.
16 hours ago
PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 14: In this aerial view, former U.S. President Donald Trump's Mar-a...
ERIC TUCKER Associated Press

Trump asks Supreme Court to intervene in Mar-a-Lago dispute

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to step into the legal fight over the classified documents seized during an FBI search of his Florida estate, escalating a dispute over the powers of an independent arbiter appointed to inspect the records.
16 hours ago
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 03: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during af...
Paul R. La Monica, CNN Business

Dow rallies more than 1,500 points in two days

Is the worst really over on Wall Street? It's too soon to say. But stocks rose sharply again Tuesday following Monday's big rally.
16 hours ago
FILE: A sign is posted on the exterior of Twitter headquarters on April 26, 2017 in San Francisco, ...
Tom Krisher, Matt O'Brien and Randall Chase, Associated Press

Musk offers to end legal fight, pay $44B to buy Twitter

Elon Musk is abandoning his legal battle to back out of buying Twitter by offering to go through with his original $44 billion bid for the social media platform.
16 hours ago
FLINT, MI - JANUARY 13:   The Flint Water Plant tower is shown January 13, 2016 in Flint, Michigan....
ED WHITE, Associated Press

Judge tosses charges against 7 people in Flint water crisis

A judge has dismissed charges against seven people in the Flint water scandal, including two former state health officials blamed for deaths from Legionnaires’ disease.
16 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Ask these questions before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Cloud storage technology with 3d rendering drawer with files in cloud...
PC Laptops

How backing up your computer can help you relieve stress

Don't wait for something bad to happen before backing up your computer. Learn how to protect your data before disaster strikes.
young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
US restarts burns of forest fuel, paused after runaway blaze