The head of the National Forest Service on Friday abruptly announced a pause on prescribed burns across national forest lands for the next 90 days. It comes after several prescribed burns this week in Central Oregon covering hundreds of acres.
Federal officials are warning that expanding drought conditions coupled with hot and dry weather, extreme wind and unstable atmospheric conditions have led to explosive fire behavior in the Southwest.
U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore cited the extreme conditions Friday in announcing a pause on prescribed fire operations.
Large wildfires burning in New Mexico were fanned Friday by gusty winds, and crews battled blazes in Texas and Colorado.
Weather forecasters had issued red-flag warnings due high fire danger for a large swath that stretched from Arizona through New Mexico to Texas.
The Forest Service has been criticized after a prescribed burn in New Mexico last month escaped its containment lines. That fire joined with another to become what is now the largest fire burning in the U.S., the Associated Press reported.
“In 99.84 percent of cases, prescribed fires go as planned. In rare circumstances, conditions change, and prescribed burns move outside the planned project area and become wildfires,” Moore said in his announcement.
In Central Oregon this week alone, several prescribed burns were conducted over hundreds of acres near Sunriver, Sisters and Crescent.
“The review I am announcing today will task representatives from across the wildland fire and research community with conducting the national review and evaluating the prescribed fire program, from the best available science to on-the-ground implementation,” he continued. “Lessons learned and any resulting program improvements will be in place prior to resuming prescribed burning.”
Moore said the impact will be minimal for the 2022 wildfire season, saying the 90% of prescribed burns happen between September and May.
Travis Pittman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.