SANTA FE, NM (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service says its own prescribed burn sparked a 2022 wildfire that nearly burned down in Los Alamos, New Mexico.
The Cerro Pelado fire burned over more than 155 square miles and crept within a few miles of the city of Los Alamos and its associated U.S. National Security Laboratory.
Investigations have traced the outbreak of the wildfire in April 2022 under extremely dry conditions to hidden, smoldering remnants of a forest service-ordered forest debris burn earlier in the winter.
The revelation prompted immediate rebukes against the Forest Service by political leaders in New Mexico.
The federal government has already acknowledged it created the largest wildfire in state history that charred more than 530 square miles (1,373 square kilometers) of the Rocky Mountain foothills east of Santa Fe, New Mexico, destroying homes and livelihoods.
Southwestern Regional Forest Ranger Michiko Martin said the Cerro Pelado fire west of Los Alamos was caused by a so-called remnant fire that remained hidden but hot for months.
“A residual fire is a fire that smolders undetected,” Martin said in a statement. “In this case, this remnant, despite being covered in sleet, remained dormant for quite some time with no visible sign of smoke or heat.”