How the U.S. Forest Service Set New Mexico Ablaze

On May 27, 2022, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) announced it was responsible for starting two fires in New Mexico that grew and combined to become the state’s largest-ever wildfire.

Albuquerque’s KOB 4 News covered the USFS’ admission of guilt:

Retired law professor Ann Althouse offers the best line about the role of the government in starting the wildfire:

A disaster and a metaphor. What is presented by the government as “controlled” goes wildly out of control.

There are a lot of obvious questions. The second most important is how did it happen?

The Biggest Wildfire in New Mexico’s History

Reuters marked the USFS’ dubious achievement with the headline “Forest Service says it started all of New Mexico’s largest wildfire“. Here’s their description of what the USFS is copping to having done:

Two blazes that grew into New Mexico’s largest-ever wildfire were both started by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), the agency said on Friday, prompting the state’s governor to demand the federal government take full responsibility for the disaster.

Forest Service investigators determined the Calf Canyon Fire was caused by a “burn pile” of branches that the agency thought was out but reignited on April 19, the Santa Fe National Forest said in a statement.

That blaze on April 22 merged with the Hermits Peak Fire, which the USFS started with a controlled burn that went out of control on April 6, the agency previously reported.

The combined blaze has so far torched over 312,320 acres (126,319 hectares) of mountain forests and valleys, an area approaching the size of greater London, and destroyed hundreds of homes.

The “size of greater London” is a strange way to describe the size of a wildfire in northern New Mexico. Leah Romero of the Las Cruces Sun News reports that the fires set by the USFS had burned 312,057 acres as of May 26, 2022. That’s 487.6 square miles, the area of a square with sides just over 22 miles long. It’s also the equivalent of burning the entire city of Albuquerque, New Mexico down 2.6 times.

That’s a very big fire. But the story of how it started raises the most important question about the scandal.

The Most Important Question

At minimum, there’s been a clear failure of oversight at the USFS. How will the Biden-Harris administration hold the USFS’ bureaucrats accountable for their negligence?

Unfortunately, the administration does not have a good track record of holding bureaucrats accountable for their bad actions. Even when their negligence enables criminal abuses to go unchallenged for years.

Neither the environment nor regular Americans can afford the USFS to set off another massive wildfire. The costs of more government failures on the Biden-Harris administration’s watch are too great.

Craig Eyermann is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute.
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