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New Mexico wildfires rage, signaling a horrific start to fire season

Tyler Freeman, a sawyer for the Carson Hot Shots, digs a hole to keep a burning log from rolling down a slope, May 23, as he and his co-workers are working on hot spots from the Calf Canyon/Hermit Peak Fire in the Carson National Forest west of Chacon, N.M.

Tyler Freeman, a sawyer for the Carson Hot Shots, digs a hole to keep a burning log from rolling down a slope, May 23, as he and his co-workers are working on hot spots from the Calf Canyon/Hermit Peak Fire in the Carson National Forest west of Chacon, N.M. (Eddie Moore, Albuquerque Journal via Associated Press)


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SALT LAKE CITY — President Joe Biden visited New Mexico this past weekend, promising federal relief as crews battle the state's largest wildfire in its history.

And it started due to a prescribed, "controlled" burn that spun out of control, roaring through 300,000 acres.

The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire has destroyed several hundred homes, and the state is also battling the Black Fire, which is the second largest in the state's history at more than 298,000 acres, according to CNN.

The feds at fault: Biden said those raging fires in New Mexico, one of which has been going on since April, were in part due to a prescribed burn by the U.S. Forest Service that got loose. A prescribed burn is a technique fire agencies use to clear out the "understory" of heavy fuels that accelerate the speed and breadth of wildfires.

Biden had this to say in New Mexico over the weekend:

"And the impact on families that have been there for so long are so consequential. And in this — in a way — you know, there's, you know, nearly 700,000 acres. And a new fire just started — have just started. Thousands of people displaced. Ranchers wiped out. Schools shuttered. And wilderness — it looks like a moonscape. You could see parts of it where I — I was able to see," he said.

"And I'm thinking about what you're thinking, and that is our responsibility. It's not a gift. We have a responsibility to help this state recover, to help the families who have been here for centuries, and the beautiful northern New Mexico villages who can't go home and whose livelihoods have been fundamentally changed."

Biden and prescribed burns: In January, as reported by CNBC, the president announced a 10-year plan to spend billions of dollars in 11 states to combat the spread of wildfires, including deploying the practice of prescribed burns.

The so-called wildfire crisis strategy was intended to quadruple the government's fuels and forest health treatments.

But by May, in the wake of the New Mexico wildfire disaster, the Biden administration's Forest Service announced a nationwide 90-day ban on prescribed burns, Reuters reported.

Utah and federal criticism: The Beehive State has also endured in recent years what officials say are wrong decisions by federal agencies when it comes to wildfires.

Gov. Spencer Cox, as lieutenant governor in 2012, pointed to a plume of smoke the Forest Service allowed to continue burning that grew into the Seeley Fire, destroying a Blue Ribbon fishery and ruining a watershed.

In Utah on Monday, some eastern chunks of the state and southern Utah remain under a red flag warning for fire risk, according to the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

UtahFireInfo reported a trio of small fires over the weekend burning in Utah.

A drought update released Friday by the state said there had been 183 wildfires thus far, with 152 of them human-caused.

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Amy Joi O'Donoghue
Amy Joi O’Donoghue is a reporter for the Utah InDepth team at the Deseret News with decades of expertise in land and environmental issues.

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