Feds Admit Starting Two Fires Now Merged Into Largest In State’s History
Two fires that have merged to become the largest in New Mexico history were both started by the US Forest Service
(Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Two New Mexico wildfires now merged into the single biggest blaze in the state’s history were both started by a federal government agency, officials admitted Friday.

Both blazes were sparked by “pile burns,” fires set to get rid of wood and debris from thinning and reforestation projects, the Albuquerque Journal reported. Although those fires are meant to be controlled burns, in both cases they have raged out of the control of the Santa Fe National Forest Service. The two wildfires, the Calf Canyon Fire and the the Hermits Peak Fire, have now merged. Between them, they have burned more than 312,00 acres and destroyed nearly 800 structures, including hundreds of homes.

“The Santa Fe National Forest is 100 percent focused on suppressing these fires with the support of the Type 1 incident management teams who are fully prepared to manage complex, all-risk situations,” SFNF supervisor Debbie Cress said. “Our commitment is to manage the public lands entrusted to us by improving the forest’s resilience to the many stressors they are facing, including larger, hotter wildfires, historic levels of drought, rising temperatures, and insects and disease.”

More than 3,000 personnel are battling the blaze in the state, which as of Friday morning was 47% contained.

The Calf Canyon Fire grew out of the Gallinas Canyon Wildland Urban Interface pile burn, which concluded January 29. Although officials though the fire had been extinguished, and it snowed in the region three times afterward, on April 9, crews responded to smoke in the vicinity. Crews monitored the fire until 10 days later, when it “reignited and escaped containment lines.” High winds caused “significant fire spread,” and the fire merged with the Hermits Peak Fire.

The Forest Service called the event a holdover fire, or sleeper fire – “a fire that remains dormant for a considerable time.”

The National Park Service reported 14 new fires were started as of May 20 in its southwest region, with nine fires burning more than 568,751 acres. Last week, U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore announced a pause of prescribed burns in all National Forest lands.

While officials expect to get the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire under control in the coming days, on the western side of New Mexico, wildfire dubbed the Black Fire is growing fast. It has consumed nearly 200,000 acres and is showing no signs of slowing down, according to

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