The Calf Canyon Fire was caused by a “pile burn holdover from January” that was started by the Santa Fe National Forest Service, officials said on Friday.
The blaze later merged with the Hermits Peak Fire – also started by a federal prescribed burn – to become the largest fire in New Mexico history.
The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire has burned more than 312,000 acres as of Friday morning and is 47% contained. More than 3,000 personnel are battling the blaze that has destroyed 761 structures, including hundreds of homes.
On January 29, Santa Fe National Forest crews concluded the Gallinas Canyon Wildland Urban Interface pile burn.
Pile burns are when agencies set fire to debris from earlier thinning and reforestation projects.
Fire investigators found that on April 9, crews responded to smoke in the vicinity of the pile burn.
The region had seen at least three snow events before the 1.5 acre Calf Canyon fire emerged.
The Forest Service is calling the event a holdover fire, or sleeper fire – “a fire that remains dormant for a considerable time.”
Crews monitored the small Calf Canyon Fire and lined the blaze until 10 days later on April 19, when the fire “reignited and escaped containment lines.”
On April 22, high winds caused “significant fire spread,” and Calf Canyon merged with the Hermits Peak blaze to east.
“The Santa Fe National Forest is 100 percent focused on suppressing these fires with the support of the Type 1 incident management teams who are fully prepared to manage complex, all-risk situations,” SFNF supervisor Debbie Cress said. “Our commitment is to manage the public lands entrusted to us by improving the forest’s resilience to the many stressors they are facing, including larger, hotter wildfires, historic levels of drought, rising temperatures, and insects and disease.”
On May 20 the U.S. Forest Service paused all prescribed burns nationwide on forest lands in the wake of the New Mexico disaster.