ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., (AP) — A temporary assignment has been made to a Washington, D.C. post by the supervisor of a National Forest that burst in flames in early this year. This is as New Mexico tries to recover from its worst wildfire in recorded history, and the U.S. Forest Service reviews their prescribed burning policies.
Debbie Cress is the acting chief of staff for U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. Although her replacement was chosen Friday to manage the forest in northern New Mexico, some question the timing of the appointment. The wildfire is still not under control and the recovery process has only just started.
Forest representatives have denied criticism and said that Cress’s opportunity to join headquarters was presented in January. This decision came as a result of Cress’s work with agency leadership over the last year.
Cress said Friday in a statement that the timing was not ideal as her state is dealing with the effects of the huge wildfire. She said that federal, local and state officials all have an unifying commitment to fire-fighting and meeting the water and fuel needs of communities who depend on Sangre de Cristo mountains for their supply.
The blaze was the result of two planned fires. These burns were intended to remove dead and overgrown vegetation in order to lessen the risk of a catastrophic wildfire. Hot, dry, and windy weather caused the flames to spread across 534 miles (1 ,383 km) in the Rocky Mountain foothills. This resulted in the destruction of hundreds of houses and the upheaval of lives for thousands of rural people.
A recent Forest Service review revealed numerous mistakes in the planning of prescribed fires. The most notable was a failure by Forest Service workers to understand how dry New Mexico has become during its decades-long drought.
About two ,000 mile (3 ,219 km) of dozer lines were cut into mountainside and valleys. Firefighters armed with hand tools carved in another 176 mile (283km) to try and control the flames.
Helicopters dropped large quantities of water and fire retardant to help protect Las Vegas, but in reality it was the beginning of the monsoon season that brought down flames that had been rising since April.
According to officials, the price for suppression is now $275million. An additional $2.5 million will be used for road maintenance, storm inspections, seeding and debris removal, as well as protection of important sites.
The assignment of
Cress in Washington will take place over four months. James Duran, Carson National Forest Supervisor will manage the Santa Fe forest till Cress’ return from her assignment.
Agency representatives said that such details of work are quite common in the Forest Service. They are both used for professional development as well as to keep agency business going while they search for permanent staff.
Joe Reddan was a former ranger from northern New Mexico who told the Santa Fe New Mexican she had to have stayed home even though Cress worked on the assignment for several months.
“It won’t help her out and it’s certainly not going to improve the credibility of our agency.” He said. Noting that there were lessons to be learnt from the incident and the best ways to assist those affected by the devastating fires, he noted the many things that can be done to make sure they are remembered.
The Forest Service is currently undergoing a review of all its prescribed fire operations across the country. This was in response to the New Mexico fire and the fire danger levels which reached historical levels this spring. In the meantime, all planned burns were put on hold.