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, that burned across more than 500 square miles (700 square kilometers) through remote communities in the southern reaches of the Rocky Mountains.
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.
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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 said of the new safeguards and tactics. "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."