U.S. Forest Service working on response to Rep. Leger Fernández’s push for wildfire precautions

By: - October 26, 2023 4:45 am
An aerial photograph of a blue-green lake, surrounded by bright green trees and desert scrub.

Morphy Lake is surrounded by thousands of burned trees on Nov. 30, 2022 following the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire. (Photo by Megan Gleason / Source NM)

A member of New Mexico’s federal delegation representing disaster victims in northern New Mexico is waiting for the U.S. Forest Service to respond to her request for additional safety measures to prevent wildfires.

U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández wrote a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore on Oct. 18, urging his agency to use infrared drones to better monitor all prescribed burns in New Mexico, which she said he committed to before a federal House committee.

Forest Service staff walked back on the drone commitment about two weeks ago because the agency doesn’t have enough drones, Leger Fernández said, which prompted her to send the letter.

“You have an obligation to rebuild the trust of New Mexican communities devastated by your agency’s past negligence,” Leger Fernández wrote.

The U.S. Forest Service is working on a response to the letter requesting a commitment to use infrared drones, agency spokesperson Wade Muehlhof said via email on Wednesday. He said the Forest Service is “currently using these technologies as capacity and budgets permit.”

“The Forest Service is committed to using all available tools to ensure the safest implementation of prescribed fires,” he said.

A spokesperson from Leger Fernández’s office said it generally takes a few weeks to get responses to letters to agencies.

Not using infrared cameras and drones is something Leger Fernández has in the past said is an issue.

A pile burn started up the Calf Canyon Fire in 2022, which crews had stopped monitoring because they wrongly thought it was fully extinguished. The same year, the Cerro Pelado Fire kicked up after embers sat dormant in a pile of ash that crews searched by hand.

A prescribed burn review the U.S. Forest Service conducted in September 2022, prompted by the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire, recommended increasing the use of technology like infrared to monitor prescribed burns — something not fully used by the Forest Service, the report says.

“New Mexicans deserve to feel safe in their homes knowing that the Forest Service will use every available technology to make sure the fire is out,” Leger Fernández said in her letter.

She asked Moore if the Forest Service has and will continue to use infrared drones at all prescribed burns in New Mexico. She also asked how many more infrared drones and additional funding the agency needs to make sure this happens.

The full letter can be found here:

Leger Fernandez to Chief Moore

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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.