Forest Service: Cerro Pelado Fire caused by prescribed burn

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The U.S. Forest Service said Monday a holdover fire from a prescribed burn caused the Cerro Pelado Fire in the spring of 2022.

Forest Service officials stated a holdover fire from the Pinos West Piles Prescribed Burn caused the fire. The fire smoldered with no visible sign of smoke or heat and sat dormant under wet snow, then sparked during the extremely dry spring in 2022.

The Cerro Pelado Fire started on April 22, 2022, near Los Alamos and Jemez Springs. The fire burned more than 45,000 acres and destroyed 10 buildings.

USDA Forest Service Southwestern Regional Forester Michiko Martin shared the following statement:

“The Southwestern Region, including the Santa Fe National Forest, has since implemented all recommendations from the ‘National Prescribed Fire Program Review.’ Specific to the Southwestern Region, firefighters now monitor pile burns using handheld thermal devices and drones that can detect whether heat is present.

The Forest Service’s next step is to conduct a thorough internal declared wildfire review, which will determine the lessons learned and actions we can take to help conduct prescribed fires more safely and reduce the risk of escapes. The findings of the internal review will also be shared once it is complete, in support of the Forest Service’s work to improve the prescribed fire program.”

Sen. Martin Heinrich also shared the following statement:

“New Mexico suffered enormous loss during last year’s wildfire season. It is frustrating and deeply concerning to learn now that the Cerro Pelado Fire was also caused by an escaped prescribed fire.

The warming climate is making our forests more vulnerable to catastrophic wildfires. That’s a reality that our Forest Service can and must urgently respond to when deciding when and how to do prescribed burns. We cannot catch up to this reality if it takes nearly a year to even make the findings on the Cerro Pelado Fire public.

As the Forest Service does the necessary work of updating its modeling and use of prescribed fires, it must also prioritize rebuilding the public’s trust. This will require more transparency and much more concerted and authentic engagement with New Mexicans than the Forest Service has shown up to this point.”

To read the full report on the investigation, click here.