New Mexico governor signs bill meant to prevent prescribed burns from becoming wildfires after Calf Canyon Hermits Peak Fire burned 342,000 acres in 2022; law bans prescribed burns during days when National Weather Service issues 'red flag' wind warnings

Sample article from our Government & Public Policy

April 7, 2023 (press release) –

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill to intended to prevent prescribed burns from becoming wildfires. The bill's passage comes about a year one such burn resulted in a wildfire that burned hundreds of thousands of acres.

The Calf Canyon Hermits Peak Fire, stoked after a prescribed burn by U.S. Forest Service got out of control in April 2022 , burned a total of 341,735 acres in northern New Mexico by the time it was contained, displacing residents and devastating infrastructure.

This devastation led Sen. Ron Griggs (R-34) of Alamogordo to sponsor Senate Bill 21 during this year’s legislative session, to ban the use of prescribed burns during days when “red flag” wind warnings are issued by the National Weather Service .

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SB 21 passed both the House and Senate unanimously during the 60-day session and was signed into law by Lujan Grisham Tuesday .

During debate in committee, SB 21 was altered from its original language that placed a ban on the practice between March and May, as the spring months are known in New Mexico for high winds, warming temperatures and little moisture.

Prescribed burns are purposeful fires set by land managers – government agencies, ranchers or other landowners – to manage vegetation.

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Representatives of the agriculture industry argued during the session that a broad ban on the burns during the spring would impede their operations. The bill was amended in a rare bipartisan move.

With its passage, Griggs said the bill took needed action to prevent future wildfires like the Calf Canyon Hermits Peak Fire.

Lawmakers also passed legislation to provide $100 million in state loans to communities affected by the blaze, to be reimbursed when federal relief dollars are received.

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This would hasten recovery, but Griggs said more effort was needed to prevent wildfires and their destruction.

"I want to thank the Governor and my colleagues in the Senate and House who heard the cries of communities that have been devastated by out-of-control prescribed burns,” Griggs said upon the bill signing.

“Though the bill had a rough start, the legislature rallied around this cause to pass the bill with unanimous, bipartisan support, demonstrating our commitment to preventing the next devastating wildfire.”

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Marking the one-year anniversary of the Hermits Peak Calf Canyon Fire , U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan met with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in Las Vegas , a community that face the brunt of the blaze’s impacts.

Lujan touted the federal Hermits Peak Calf Canyon Fire Assistance Act, passed by Congress last year to provide $3.95 billion in federal relief dollars for affected communities.

It also established the Hermit’s Peak Claims Office within the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).

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That bill was sponsored by Lujan and U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM), and supported by U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM).

“Today, New Mexico marks a solemn anniversary of the Hermit’s Peak Fire that upended the lives of far too many New Mexicans,” Lujan said in a Thursday statement.

“From burning family homes, disrupting small businesses, and impacting our farmers and ranchers, this fire started by the federal government, and the flooding that followed, devastated the people of New Mexico and our way of life.”

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He called on the federal government to work closely with New Mexicans rebuilding in the aftermath of the tragedy.

“As we reflect on this challenging time, it’s clear this once-in-a-generation fire deserves a robust response,” Lujan said. “Now, the federal government must remain engaged and work together with our local communities to get this wildfire relief out to New Mexicans that need to rebuild and recover.”

As wildfire season started again this spring, New Mexico’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department urged residents to limit flammable debris like pine needs and other vegetation that can collect in gutters and around properties.

Debris should be kept at least 50 feet from a home, EMNRD reported, and all trees and shrubs should be removed within 30 feet.

Trees and shrubs should be pruned so there is at least a 10-foot gap between the outermost branches, and lower branches should be removed up to 10 feet off the ground, read the report.

“Most homes ignited by wildfires are caused by embers or small flames,” read a statement from EMNRD. “Homeowners can minimize property damage and protect firefighters by taking steps on and around buildings in the short and long-term.”

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: Lujan Grisham signs burn ban bill into law to prevent future wildfires in New Mexico

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