Pearce and Forest Service clash as Little Bear Fire rages
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As firefighters battle the Little Bear Fire that has destroyed at least 36 structures in the Ruidoso area, Congressman Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico) and an official with the US Forest Service had a heated exchange over the agency’s handling of the wildfire that as of Sunday afternoon had charred more than 26,000 acres in the mountainous terrain of south-central New Mexico.
The Little Bear Fire started back on June 4, due to a lightning strike in the Lincoln National Forest. The fire was not snuffed out completely and by Friday it had spread to Ruidoso, forcing the evacuations of hundreds of people as the blaze grew to cover roughly 40 square miles.In a meeting Saturday night, Pearce criticized fire officials for not putting water or retardant down in the fire’s early stages.
From the Ruidoso News:
The forest’s Smokey Bear District Ranger Dave Warnack said fire officials made the decision.
“Those are the folks with the years of experience managing wildfires,” [Lincoln National Forest Supervisor Robert]
Trujillo added. “And my job is to support those decisions and to give them the tools and techniques to take care of this fire. Right now, Mr. Congressman, we have an active fire out there and I don’t see that this conversation is very productive, with all due respect.”
But Pearce pounded back.
“If the decisions made at that point could have forced all this, it is productive to say ‘Who made the decisions?’ I think its extraordinarily important,” Pearce said. “We’re seeing this occur over and over and over again, and at some point, somebody has to make a decision that we get more active earlier.”
Pearce said his constituents expect him to ask the Forest Service such questions.
“They’re worried about their homes. They’re worried about the economy of this town. They’re worried about their futures. You’re damn right they’ve got a right to ask those questions and I’ve got a responsibility to ask it here when I get the room.”
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Pearce has been a longtime critic of the wildfire tactics of forest officials.
Just three days before the Little Bear Fire started, he issued a news release pointing to the Whitewater-Baldy Fire in the Gila National Forest that is still burning, saying the “US Forest Service bureaucracy in Washington … caters to extreme interest groups that stop responsible forest management. Because the Forest Service refuses to permit logging in our forests, they are overcrowded with trees that go up in flames during droughts, and invite massive conflagrations like we see in the Gila. It would be far easier to thin the forest conscientiously in advance than resort to emergency fire suppression, which risks lives and property.”
During a similar debate last September, Bryan Bird of the environmental organization WildEarth Guardians responded by saying, “Logging is not going to change the weather. It’s the fundamental bottom line there. All the forests in the Southwest have fire danger.”
As for details in the Little Bear Fire, as of 6:30 p.m. Sunday (June 10):
*Forest Service lists the fire as zero percent contained
*144 firefighters were battling the blaze
*20 engines, 6 helicopters and 2 bulldozers were being manned
*According to the incident report, “An unusual firefighting tactic is being used on the southwest corner of the [fire]. Snow making machines at Ski Apache Resort are being utilized to wet down fuels, slowing the spread of the fire.”
*The terrain difficulty is listed as “steep and rugged”
*New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez was touring the site Sunday, as was Pearce
Update: Gov. Martinez addressed about 500 evacuees in Ruidoso Sunday, telling them, “The state has committed any or all its resources here.” Click here to get the story from the Ruidoso News.
Jim Scarantino alerts us to this Facebook page with updates from residents about the Little Bear Fire: http://www.facebook.com/groups/169877396476143/170114563119093/?notif_t=group_activity
Here are some photos posted on social media sites, including this one from Frank Jensen Jr. via Ian Schwartz of KRQE-TV: