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U.S. stops controlled burns nationwide after New Mexico disaster

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) on Friday called a temporary nationwide halt to controlled burns meant to reduce fire risk after the agency accidentally started part of New Mexico’s largest ever wildfire.

The Hermits Peak Calf Canyon fire has burned over 300,000 acres (123,000 hectares), destroyed up to 1,500 properties and displaced tens of thousands of people, and is still out of control. read more

Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said fire danger levels were too high to use prescribed fire and ordered a 90-day review of policies before operations planned for this fall.

“Lessons learned and any resulting program improvements will be in place prior to resuming prescribed burning,” Moore said in a statement.

The move stops a practise many forest biologists see as crucial to reducing high fuel levels in national forests after a century of fire suppression and decades of logging bans in the case of New Mexico.

However, they are also concerned about the potentially devastating effects of prescribed fire if misused.

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