GOES East satellite captures smoke from wildfires in New Mexico moving into the eastern portion of the state and western Texas on April 29, 2022.
Wildfires have ravaged around 300,000 acres this year in New Mexico. CNN reports that the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire is the most significant US fire this year and the second-largest in New Mexico in at least 30 years (Wolfe, 2022).
The wildfire burned at least 277 structures, including 166 homes, with more than 2000 firefighters trying to douse the fire.
Prescribed burns sparked the fires aided by erratic winds and arid conditions linked to climate change.
NBC News article, “U.S. Forest Service pauses prescribed burns, announces review after New Mexico wildfire,” reports that historically, wildfires begin in May or June in New Mexico, but they came in early this year.
The NBC News article says further:
“The Hermits Peak Fire started April 6, and it occurred after “unexpected erratic winds” caused multiple spot fires outside the boundaries of the prescribed burn, the Forest Service said.”
“The Calf Canyon Fire started to the West of that blaze on April 19, and its cause is listed as being under investigation. The two fires later merged and have burned more than 303,000 acres”, the article says.
Yahoo! News says that the picturesque city of Alburquerque, home to 84,000, has been draped by smoke from the historic wildfire. About 6,000 people from 32 communities were told to evacuate as firefighters worked hard to quench the fires (Adler, 2022).
Due to the severe wildfire incident that stemmed from the Forest Services’ prescribed burns, an essential tool used to reduce wildfires, the agency announced that it would suspend the practice and conduct a 90-day review of its protocols and procedures to improve its operations (Helsel, 2022).
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham supported the pause, saying, “It is critical that federal agencies update and modernize these practices in response to a changing climate, as what used to be considered extreme conditions are now much more common — the situation unfolding in New Mexico right now demonstrates without a doubt the grave consequences of neglecting to do so” (Helsel, 2022).
According to the Yahoo! News article, “U.S. Forest Service pauses prescribed burns, announces review after New Mexico wildfire,” climate scientists warn that the wildfire in New Mexico is not a freak occurrence but rather a new normal caused by climate change.
Adler (2022) says, “Warmer temperatures, which cause more evaporation, dry out the landscape and create the conditions for wildfires to break out. In addition, climate change causes more extreme weather, such as unseasonably warm days in winter, and may even be causing stronger winds — another risk factor for fire — due to jet-stream disruption.”
A 2021 report from Climate Central finds that hot, dry, windy conditions that trigger wildfires have increased significantly in the last few decades based on the data from 225 weather stations in 17 states across the West since, especially in New Mexico (FIRE WEATHER, 2021).
The report’s summary says that “Parts of New Mexico, Texas, and Southern California have experienced some of the largest increases in fire weather days each year. Areas of New Mexico are now seeing two more months of fire weather than was the case nearly a half-century ago.”
Afshar, P. & Krupa, M. (2022, May 5). A major disaster is declared in New Mexico, unlocking federal aid as wildfires threaten thousands of homes. CNN. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2022/05/05/us/new-mexico-wildfires-thursday/
Wolfe, Elizabeth. (2022, May 3). New Mexico wildfires spread rapidly as state faces critical fire threat. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2022/05/02/us/new-mexico-wildfire-calf-canyon-hermits-peak-tuesday/
Helsel, P. (2022, May 21). U.S. Forest Service pauses prescribed burns, announces review after New Mexico wildfire. NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/us-forest-service-pauses-prescribed-burns-announces-review-wildfire-rcna29933
Adler, B. (2022 May 5). Climate change is why New Mexico’s wildfire season started early this year. Yahoo!News. Retrieved from https://news.yahoo.com/climate-change-is-why-new-mexicos-wildfire-season-started-early-this-year-130202150.html
FIRE WEATHER Heat, dryness, and wind are driving wildfires in the Western U.S. (2021, August 25). Climate Central. Retrieved from https://medialibrary.climatecentral.org/uploads/general/FireWeatherReport2021.pdf
GIF IMAGE CREDIT: By NOAA & CIRA – https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/news/goes-east-spies-smoke-and-dust-the-wind, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=117820304