New Mexico's largest wildfire traced back to Forest Service prescribed burns

New Mexico Gov. Lujan Grisham said the agency would pay for fire suppression costs

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New Mexico's largest wildfire in history has been traced to planned burns set by the U.S. Forest Service. 

The agency said Friday that one of the two fires, the Calf Canyon Fire, was ignited by a pile burn holdover from January that was dormant under the surface before reemerging in April. 

"A holdover fire, also called a sleeper fire, is a fire that remains dormant for a considerable time," the Santa Fe National Forest said in a statement. 

The fire reignited and escaped containment lines on April 19, merging with the Hermits Peak fire due to a wind event on April 22. 

AS WEATHER SHIFTS, FIRE IN NEW MEXICO NEARS 50% CONTAINMENT

The Hermits Peak Fire was caused by an escaped prescribed burn. 

On May 20, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore announced a 90-day pause in the use of prescribed fire on National Forest System lands.

Now, the Forest Service says the fires are 48% contained, spanning 314,228 acres. 

Nearly 3,000 personnel are working to fight the fire as fire weather once again threatens efforts. 

In a statement, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said that the pain and suffering of New Mexicans caused by the actions of the Forest Service is "unfathomable." 

NEW MEXICO FIRE SLOWED DUE TO RAIN, MOUNTAIN SNOW

"This is a first step toward the federal government taking full responsibility for the largest wildfire in state history, which has destroyed hundreds of homes, displaced tens of thousands of New Mexicans and cost the state and local governments millions of dollars. I appreciate the U.S. Forest Service assuming responsibility for the federal actions that caused this terrible crisis," she wrote. 

"It is evident that the federal government must take a hard look at their fire management practices and make sure they account for a rapidly changing climate. New Mexico and the West must take every precaution to prevent fires of this magnitude from occurring, especially as precipitation levels continue to decrease and temperatures rise," Lujan said. 

Fire suppression costs to the state exceed $132 million, and increase by around $5 million each day. The Forest Service will foot the bill. 

Red flag conditions were expected to start in New Mexico on Saturday and continue through the beginning of next week. 

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According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 27,061 wildfires have burned 1,804,986 acres this year. 

Western wildfires have become a year-round threat and scientists and fire experts say they are moving faster and burning hotter than ever due to climate change.