A move to ban prescribed burns amid risky weather conditions is almost through the Roundhouse

By: - March 15, 2023 4:00 am
Burnt up remnants from what used to be a house sit in a forest full of dead trees.

Wreckage from a house that the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire burned. Pictured in September 2022. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)

Amid rapid-fire passage of bills through the House of Representatives on Tuesday, lawmakers passed legislation that would put a halt on prescribed burns whenever the National Weather Service puts out alerts about severe weather conditions.

The House of Representatives unanimously passed Senate Bill 21 on Tuesday. Next, the Senate has to agree with amendments made to the bill before it lands on the governor’s desk for a signature.

The legislation has changed drastically since it was first introduced, transforming from a measure that would ban prescribed burns altogether in the spring to only stopping them when there’s a red flag alert.

“This is a very straightforward bill,” said Rep. Harlan Vincent (R-Ruidoso Downs), who explained the legislation to the House.

The National Weather Service issues a red flag warning when there are very warm temperatures, low humidities or strong winds within a 24-hour period that could cause fires to get out of control.

At least two of those factors helped lead prescribed burns by the U.S Forest Service to become the largest wildfire in New Mexico history, the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire.

Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell (R-Roswell) asked if these fire rules would apply to only private landowners or also the U.S. Forest Service. Vincent said both would have to adhere to the bill.

In previous committee meetings, lawmakers questioned how much power this will actually have over the federal government. On Tuesday, Vincent said anyone from private contractors or landowners to agency officials will have to follow these new rules, if signed into law.

“I think this is going to hold everybody accountable,” he said.

Rep. Stefani Lord (R-Sandia Park) said she’s appreciative of the legislation. “I’m scared to death because I love the East Mountains, and it looks like a tinderbox,” she said regarding the 2000 Cerro Grande fire.

This bill includes an emergency clause and would go into effect immediately after a signature from the governor.


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Megan Gleason
Megan Gleason

Megan Gleason is a journalist based in Albuquerque. She recently graduated from the University of New Mexico, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. Other work has appeared under the New Mexico Press Association as well as in the Independent, Gallup Sun and Silver City Daily Press.