Review of prescribed fires finds gaps in key areas as US Forest Service looks to improve safety

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two years after the U.S. Forest Service sparked what would become the largest and most destructive wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history, independent investigators say there are gaps that need to be addressed if the agency is to be successful at using prescribed fire as a tool to reduce risk amid climate change.

The investigation by the Government Accountability Office was requested by U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández after communities in her district were ravaged in 2022 by the Hermit’s Peak-Calf Canyon Fire.

The congresswoman wanted to know what factors the Forest Service had identified as contributing to the escape of prescribed fires over the last decade and whether the agency was following through with reforms promised after a pause and review of its prescribed burn program.

The report made public Monday notes there were 43 escapes documented between 2012 and 2021 out of 50,000 prescribed fire projects. That included blazes in national forests in more than a dozen states, from the California-Nevada border to Utah, New Mexico, Idaho, North Carolina and Arkansas.

With the U.S. Forest Service and other land management agencies tapping into federal infrastructure and inflation reduction funding to boost the number of prescribed burn operations over the

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