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Bill To Ban Prescribed Burning On Red Flag Days Clears First House Committee

Smoke from the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire drifts over Las Vegas, N.M.
Robert Browman
The Albuquerque Journal via AP
Smoke from the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire drifts over Las Vegas, N.M., on Saturday.

A bill to ban prescribed burns in New Mexico during Red Flag Warnings cleared its first stop in the House on Tuesday  after being unanimously approved last week in the Senate.   

The bill simply bans any prescribed burns during times the National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for high winds in the area where the burning was scheduled to take place.

It stems from last year’s devastating wildfire season in New Mexico, particularly the Calf Canyon -Hermits Peak fire that burned over 500 square miles and destroyed nearly one-thousand structures. It began when a US Forest Service prescribed burn jump containment due to high winds.

A Red Flag Warning was in effect for the region at the time.            

After a unanimous Do Pass recommendation from the House Rural Development, Land Grant and Cultural Affairs Committee, sponsor Senator Ron Griggs said it’s just common sense not to start large fires during extremely windy conditions.

“Let’s let the people of New Mexico know that we care about what’s happened,” he said. “The legislature stepped up and said, ‘let’s not do this anymore.’ That’s what I think that is what is important about this bill is that we’re taking a stand and saying to everyone that this is important to us because we know its important to you.”     

Over 15,500 households had to evacuate during the blaze, many lost everything, not only from the fire but also the flooding that occurred in its aftermath. 

One change made on the Senate floor was to expand the ban to year round during Red Flag Warnings and not just in the spring.

The bill now heads to the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee before hitting the House Floor and then moving on to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for her signature.          

Kevin Meerschaert comes to Santa Fe from Jacksonville, Florida where he spent the past 20 years covering politics, government and pretty much everything else.