Forest Service Confirms Cause Of 2022 Cerro Pelado Fire On The Santa Fe National Forest


USDA Forest Service Southwestern Regional Forester Michiko Martin has released the following statement announcing the completion of the Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations’ origin and cause investigation into the Cerro Pelado Fire on the Santa Fe National Forest in spring of 2022.  

“Our investigation has confirmed that the Cerro Pelado Fire on the Jemez Ranger District of the Santa Fe National Forest was caused by a holdover fire from the Pino West Piles Prescribed Fire, a debris pile burn. 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. 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. 

“This fire deeply affected our communities. Escaped prescribed fires in 2022 led the Forest Service to implement a 90-day national pause on prescribed fire and review required changes to the prescribed fire program. The Southwestern Region, including the Santa Fe National Forest, has since implemented all recommendations from the “National Prescribed Fire Program Review.” Specific to the Southwestern Region, firefighters now monitor pile burns using handheld thermal devices and drones that can detect whether heat is present. 

“We are committed to transparency and dialogue with the community, and sharing the results of this investigation is a critical part of that work. The Forest Service’s next step is to conduct a thorough internal declared wildfire review, which will determine the lessons learned and actions we can take to help conduct prescribed fires more safely and reduce the risk of escapes. The findings of the internal review will also be shared once it is complete, in support of the Forest Service’s work to improve the prescribed fire program. The learnings are critical to the Forest Service’s ability to continue protecting communities and addressing the ongoing wildfire crisis.” 

This 230-page cause investigation report can be found at the FOIA reading room.