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Controlled burn ban extended for National Park Service
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two weeks after halting controlled burns in the western United States, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt Friday extended the ban indefinitely for the National Park Service while lifting it for all other federal agencies.
"All federal agencies except the Park Service will be allowed to resume their scheduled prescribed burns," Babbitt wrote in a letter to National Park Service Director Robert Stanton.
The letter came after an independent review board confirmed an earlier conclusion that the Park Service made numerous mistakes in how it planned and executed a controlled burn in the forests southwest of Los Alamos, New Mexico, earlier this month. The fire -- aided by high winds -- burned out of control and eventually destroyed more than 47,000 acres as it left several hundred families homeless.
Immediately following the fire, Babbitt imposed a 30-day moratorium on all prescribed burning west of the 100th parallel, which roughly runs through the Rocky Mountains, to give the government time to reassess regulations governing the burns. Babbitt also appointed an interagency investigative team to study the origins of the fire.
That team squarely placed blame on the Park Service, saying it failed to adhere to numerous regulations.
Friday's report by the Independent Review Board confirms those May 18 findings in all respects but one; it says the National Weather Service is blameless in the incident. While the earlier report said the weather service should have included wind predictions in a three- to five-day outlook, the new report states such predictions are not included "because of constantly changing conditions."
Meanwhile, the fire, which had been declared "100 percent contained" on Wednesday, jumped the fire line Thursday and burned an additional five acres.
The fire is now 97 percent contained and should be fully contained again by Monday evening, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Joe Pasinato said.
Pasinato said fire continues to erupt in the interior of the perimeter, but should be declared under control by July 9, a delay that takes into account predictions of strong winds and hot weather in the coming days.
The National Park Service ignited the prescribed burn on May 4 to reduce undergrowth in the northern section of Bandelier National Monument. Undergrowth can contribute to large, uncontrolled wild fires.
Babbitt wrote in his letter Friday that while he is extending the Park Service ban on controlled fires, the agency can conduct burns in accordance with some narrowly defined circumstances he first outlined when the moratorium was imposed.
A statement from President Clinton said the administration is committed to compensating those affected by the fires. Clinton said he is working with Congress to draft legislation on the matter as soon as possible.
Aid teams visit burned-out Los Alamos
U.S. Department of the Interior, Secretary Babbitt
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