In his column this week, Michael Swickard argues that it’s “time to fire the political fire managers” who he says made “the political decision” to let the Little Bear Fire near Ruidoso continue as a controlled burn instead of putting it out quickly.
That’s not what state officials say happened. Gov. Susana Martinez and Eddie Tudor, bureau chief of resource management for New Mexico forestry, held a news conference in Ruidoso to try to stop the spread of rumors. Here’s Tudor, as quoted by the Ruidoso News:
“‘The question has come up, why wasn’t water used, why wasn’t a bucket drop used,’ he said. Because of the elevation of the fire, 10,500 feet above sea level, helicopters were unable to respond with standard equipment, he said.
“A helicopter had been sent up to the fire within hours of its detection to shuttle the Sacramento Hotshots up to the slopes to begin suppression, he added.
“‘Water was never denied on the fire, it was never rejected on the fire, it just had to be taken in a different manner because of the altitude,’ he said. ‘At that altitude it’s really difficult to get equipment off the ground and safely carry it.’
“The judgment call on safety was left in the hands of the experts, the pilots, he said. ‘They tried to get off the ground and they just couldn’t do it. Quite frankly, we’ve had some tough weather days up there.’”
Swickard, whose information came from an area volunteer fire chief, argued that the state should take over fire management from the federal government because the federal government was making political decisions.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M. has made similar claims to those made by Swickard.