US Forest Service: Prescribed Burn Also to Blame for Cerro Pelado Fire

Forest Service: Cerro Pelado also caused by prescribed burn

Last year’s Cerro Pelado Fire, which burned approximately 45,605 acres in the Santa Fe National Forest Jemez Ranger District and threatened Los Alamos National Laboratory, also began as a prescribed burn, according to a US Forest Service report released yesterday. The Forest Service has already previously acknowledged that both the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fires, which eventually merged to become the largest wildfire in the state’s history, also began due to the agency’s own prescribed burns. In the case of Cerro Pelado, the agency says a holdover fire from the Pino West Piles Prescribed Fire, a debris pile burn, began the fire that sparked April 22, 2022. “A holdover fire is a fire that smolders undetectably. In this case, despite being covered by wet snow, this holdover fire remained dormant for considerable time with no visible sign of smoke or heat,” USDA Forest Service Southwestern Regional Forester Michiko Martin said in a prepared statement. “This investigation adds to the considerable evidence of how severely the Santa Fe National Forest was affected by extreme environmental conditions caused by historic drought in 2022.” According to Martin, the Southwestern Region, including the Santa Fe National Forest, has since implemented all recommendations from the “National Prescribed Fire Program Review,” which includes having firefighters monitor pile burns using handheld thermal devices and drones capable of determining whether heat is present.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, in a statement, described herself as “outraged over the US Forest Service’s negligence that caused this destruction. While climate change and extreme drought continue to plague the Southwest, the Forest Service must abandon their business-as-usual approach to prescribed burns and forest management in our state.” The governor added that she was “relieved to hear that the Forest Service will now use technology to prevent this from occurring in the future. We will continue to hold the federal government accountable for each of the disastrous fires they caused in our state last summer.” US Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, both of whom co-sponsored federal legislation to compensate victims of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, also released statements, with Heinrich criticizing the agency for the delay in releasing the Cerro Pelado findings: “The warming climate is making our forests more vulnerable to catastrophic wildfires,” Heinrich said. “That’s a reality that our Forest Service can and must urgently respond to when deciding when and how to do prescribed burns. We cannot catch up to this reality if it takes nearly a year to even make the findings on the Cerro Pelado Fire public.”

Khalsa takes plea in DWI case

Former Santa Fe County Magistrate Judge Dev Atma Khalsa took a a deal yesterday in his drunk driving case, but maintains his innocence. Khalsa pleaded no contest to drunk driving in exchange for a deferred sentence, according to his attorney. The plea is the final piece after Khalsa’s arrest during the early hours of Feb. 26, when Santa Fe police found him and his vehicle on its side, feet from the northbound St. Francis off-ramp from I-25. Police reports noted that Khalsa smelled of alcohol. Khalsa consistently avoided interviews, but maintained his innocence during judicial disciplinary proceedings and the months after his arrest through his attorneys. Criminal defense attorney Kitren Fischer refused a phone interview with SFR and instead sent an emailed statement, along with one from her client. The latter read, in part: “As a person of a non-Western faith tradition, I have been deeply shaken by what I have seen as a defendant. I apologize to the Indigenous population of Santa Fe County. Because I am no longer in a position within the system, I can no longer attempt to mitigate the effects the system has on those whose beliefs involve models of atonement that are fundamentally different than those that underpin the American justice system.” The state Supreme Court officially accepted Khalsa’s resignation earlier this month.

State Supreme Court spells out protection order criteria

The state Supreme Court ruled yesterday that New Mexico’s Family Violence Protection Act doesn’t require victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking to show an immediate threat of harm in order to obtain an order of protection. The unanimous ruling, as detailed in a news release, clarifies that “the only predicate finding required is that domestic abuse has occurred,” the opinion by Justice David K. Thomson states. “There is no language that indicates that a petition must state why a petitioner needs the order, or even language that requires proof of a petitioner’s need for the order.” The decision grew out of a case in which an Albuquerque woman, after turning 18, sought a protective order against a man who allegedly had sexually abused her since she was the age of 12. While she received a temporary order of protection, a hearing officer concluded the woman had failed to prove the alleged abuser posed an immediate danger and the District Court adopted that recommendation. The state Supreme Court ordered her case back to District Court for a new hearing.

Lawmakers tackle AI

State legislators on the Science, Technology and Telecommunications Committee heard testimony yesterday on the dangers of Artificial Intelligence, including a University of New Mexico presentation on the technology’s potential to perpetuate misinformation and fraud. Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin also spoke about the impact AI could have on the workforce—its use has emerged as a sticking point in the current Hollywood actors strike. The discussion about AI’s potential misuse continues today, with Santa Fe Institute Professor Cris Moore scheduled to testify about the implications AI carries for the criminal justice system. Moore co-authored a study last year identifying red flags in proposals to revamp the state’s pre-trial detention criteria. Both Moore and University of New Mexico Computer Science Professor Melanie Moses, a co-founder of SFI’s Interdisciplinary Algorithmic Justice Group, also delivered a talk on AI in April.

Listen up

The Lost Women of Science Initiative, in partnership with Scientific American. recently announced a series of short podcast episodes about the women who played significant roles in the Manhattan Project (here’s the trailer). According to the project, more than 640 women worked on the Manhattan Project just at Los Alamos alone. The first episode focuses on Leona Woods Marshall Libby, the only woman hired onto Enrico Fermi’s team at the Metallurgical Laboratory at the University of Chicago.

Indigenous road trip

Travel & Leisure magazine highlights a road trip that puts travelers on the “Trail of the Ancients,” and the “only National Scenic Byway that was designated primarily for its archaeological sites.” The Four Corners trip passes through four states, including New Mexico, plus Colorado, Utah and Arizona (the latter state, apparently, is not yet officially part of the byway). The story recommends starting the trip in Albuquerque and heading toward Chaco Culture National Historical Park, with plenty of stops along the way for aforementioned archeological sites. After Chaco, T&L recommends continuing on to Farmington and spending a little time exploring there. T&L doesn’t provide ideas for that trip, so we’ll pile on and link to Edible New Mexico’s late summer edition, which includes a culinary guide to the the Four Corners area. Part of that guide includes a story on three modern Native American cuisine businesses in FarmingtonPioche Food Group, helmed by Chef Justin Pioche, who was a finalist this year for Best Chef: Southwest in the James Beard Awards; Juniper Coffee & Eatery; and Bow & Arrow Brewing Company’s Rambler Taproom.

All about downtown

The Travel includes Santa Fe in its roundup of the country’s “most beautiful town squares.” These “piazzas are always the center of a community and usually host special events,” the story coos, “including cultural performances, political rallies, and some of the most vibrant festivals. Generally, America’s town squares set the scene for rural and urban lives.” Santa Fe’s Plaza comes in at #1 on this list of 10 town squares, with The Travel describing the downtown square as “the central part of the city, offering plenty of options for live entertainment, shopping opportunities, and unforgettable dining and nightlife experiences. Initially, this was a popular gathering place for the locals and has continued to grow and entice tourists with its stunning scenery.” No sign in the photo or word about the obelisk that shall not be named (or replaced, apparently). In another bout of random tourism journalism, Florida’s Sarasota magazine provides “an introduction to the world of New Mexico wine.” The story actually is just about Vara Winery & Distillery, the “exceptional quality” of which writer Bob McGinn, a wine guy, found “very surprising.” He tried an albariño and a mencia, by the way. We will tie these disparate topics together by mentioning Vara’s Santa Fe tasting room is mere blocks from Santa Fe’s very pretty Plaza (SFR also enjoyed Vara’s wine when we visited last year).

The heat is (still) on

Record-breaking heat across the state yesterday, with more hot weather on the way. The National Weather Service forecasts a sunny day with a high temperature near 94 degrees and east wind 5 to 15 mph becoming west in the afternoon. A heat advisory is in effect from noon until 8 pm.

Thanks for reading! The Word looks forward to reading Ann Beattie’s new story collection and this interview with her in The Millions.

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