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New Mexico Wildfires: Investigators to Examine Why Park Officials Authorized Burn with Negative Weather Forecast

Aired May 12, 2000 - 1:31 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The superintendent of the Bandelier National Monument is on paid suspension today while authorities investigate the circumstances of the fire he authorized last week in New Mexico.

CNN's Carl Rochelle joins us now from Washington, he's following that -- Carl.

CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, there is some concern about a weather forecast, a specific weather forecast called for by the National Park Service. They asked the National Weather Service to put out what's called a spot forecast. It looks a little like this and the National Weather Service responded from the Albuquerque office and sent that spot forecast in before the fire was started.

Significant in that forecast is something called a Haines index, a six Haines index is indicated in this particular forecast. Now that's a forecast of the possibility of what the weather conditions are going to be like. The Haines forecast measures the ability of a fire to break out and smoke plumes to come along based on atmospheric conditions. A two is a very stable condition, a six is the maximum unstable condition. A six was forecast for that particular area.

Now that was faxed into the National Park Service on the area. The questions that are being raised are: A, did the National Park Service get the facts? B, did the person who was in charge of lighting the fire see the forecast? or C, was it igno -- was it looked at and ignored? or was it looked at and in consideration of that, gone ahead with the fire.

And CNN has learned that to look into this further a panel is being put together, it's being assembled in Boise, Idaho. It will contain members from the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, it will contain New Mexico state officials, other federal officials and people from three counties around; and they will look at answers for those questions. The panel expected to be formed this afternoon and will go to Santa Fe to conduct their investigation into it. This is in addition to any panels that may look into the situation from the Congress or any other agency. This is looking specifically the at the decision that was made -- Natalie.

ALLEN: The investigation grows, all right, Carl Rochelle in Washington. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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