New Mexico congresswoman questions U.S. Forest Service chief

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The U.S. Forest Service’s top official answered some tough questions from lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez.

Wednesday’s hearing was the first time U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore appeared before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Federal Lands.

It was also the first time the congresswoman questioned Moore about the federally-started Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire.

“I mean, I think a good apology would be a nice place to start,” Rep. Leger Fernandez said.

The apology never came. The congresswoman engaged in a heated exchange with Moore, referring to the massive wildfire. She said a prescribed burn blew up into the largest wildfire in New Mexico history and said it was on their hands.

“We were using resources to fight fires, but not resources when you start the fires, which doesn’t make sense. You left the Calf Canyon Fire smoldering for months. Everyone who’s been camping knows you never leave the fire until it’s out, and you left the fire,” Rep. Leger Fernandez said.

In the past five years, wildfires have destroyed more than 38 million acres of land in the U.S. Of that, 35% of that is National Forest Service land and the future is bleak.

89% of all forest service land has the potential for wildfires to ignite and spread to communities.

This is as thousands of New Mexicans are still trying to recover from the devastation.

“The pain of losing so much, it’s not gonna go away. Chief Moore, victims in New Mexico are watching us today, what do you have to say to them?” the congresswoman questioned.

They also discussed concerns that the number of fire personnel can’t keep up with the number of fires breaking out.

There was $259 million requested for an estimated 970 additional wildland firefighters and support personnel.

The congresswoman also planned on questioning the chief about flooding that they expect will happen in those burn scars, but she ran out of time. However, she says she expects the chief to respond to that concern at a later time.