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Controlled burn ban extended for National Park Service

Firefighters battle the blazes near Los Alamos, New Mexico, earlier this month  

May 26, 2000
Web posted at: 6:44 p.m. EDT (2244 GMT)

In this story:

Investigation blamed Park Service

Clinton committed to compensation


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.

  Read the letter

Listen to Interior Secretary Babbitt discuss the preliminary report on the Los Alamos fire during a May 18 press conference

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Investigation blamed Park Service

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."

Following the Los Alamos fire, Babbitt on Friday extended indefinitely the ban on executing controlled burns for the National Park Service  

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.

Clinton committed to compensation

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
May 24, 2000
Mistakes by federal officials allowed 'controlled burn' to become raging Los Alamos wildfire, report says
May 18, 2000
Brush fire forces evacuations at Los Alamos lab
May 8, 2000

U.S. Department of the Interior, Secretary Babbitt
United States Environmental Protection Agency
ParkNet: Gateway to the National Park Service
  • Bandelier National Monument
Los Alamos County
  • Fire Department

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