The Forest Service, a branch of the United States Department of Agriculture, has taken responsibility for causing two massive wildfires in New Mexico that have combined into North America’s current largest blaze and New Mexico’s largest wildfire since 2002.
The first, known as Hermits Peak, started April 6 with the cause being a controlled burn gone wrong, the Forest Service admitted in an April 7 notice.
Originally, the fire was described as 150+ acres and attributed to “multiple spot fires that spread outside the boundary of a prescribed burn.”
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By April 13, the Forest Service issued another notice that extreme winds had caused “rapid growth” in the blaze. And they were correct as they stated it had since grown to 6,276 acres, with only 10 percent contained.
Notably one day before on April 12, the Service decided to postpone another controlled burn planned for the Santa Fe Watershed, an area described as providing “approximately 40% of the water for Santa Fe residents,” indefinitely.
By April 20, the Hermits Peak fire had advanced in size, but appeared to be under control as it had grown to only 7,573 acres with an 83 percent containment rate, the Service stated.
However, also on April 20, a new fire broke out at Calf Canyon, again in a localized 150 acre region. A notice at the time declared the cause of the fire merely as “under investigation.”
The Calf Canyon fire, however, was out of control quickly. Just two days later on April 22, an advisory on extreme weather admitted the blaze had already grown to 3,000 acres and had not been contained whatsoever.
Bad turned to worse on April 24, however, when the Forest Service announced that the two blazes had unfortunately combined, forming one massive 54,004 acre fire that was only under 12 percent containment.
By May 1, a Forest Service update revealed that the blazes had doubled to 103,908 acres.
The rate of advancement had subdued somewhat by May 22 as the Forest Service stated the blaze had only grown to 310,046 acres and was 40 percent contained.
The most recent update, May 27, stated the fire had only grown to 312,230 acres and was now 47 percent contained.
However, the same day, the Forest Service announced it had finally determined the cause of the Calf Canyon fire as “caused by a pile burn holdover from January that remained dormant under the surface through three winter snow events before reemerging in April.”
The report went into details stating that as of April 9, after smoke was reported as sighted from the previous January burn, crews attended and lined the 1.5 acre burn site and “continued to monitor the fire over the next couple of days to ensure there were no signs of heat or flames near the edge.”
However, for reasons unannounced, the Forest Service stated the fire had reignited on April 19 before being taken away by high winds to combine with the Hermits Peak Fire.
On May 26, USA Today affiliate Las Cruces Sun News reported that the combined Calf Canyon Hermits Peak fire is currently the largest burning in North America and also the largest in New Mexico since 2002.
Additionally, the outlet stated that a new fire called the Black Fire in the Gila National Forest is currently raging out of control as well, so much so that it’s already the third largest fire in New Mexico history since 2002.
A USDA Forest Service bulletin states the fire started on May 13 and has already reached 191,459 acres. The agency describes the cause as “human caused” and under investigation.