Lightning sparks fire in Pecos Wilderness

Lightning sparked a blaze east of Gorham Scout Camp in the Española Ranger District of the Santa Fe National Forest within the Pecos Wilderness yesterday.

According to a press release from Bruce Hill, Santa Fe National Forest Public Affairs Officer, Smoke was reported yesterday at 5:51 p.m. The fire, which has burned about one acre, is zero-percent contained. Fire fuels include grass, sage and ponderosa pine. On the scene are two SFNF engines with eight personnel, 1 Flathead NF engine, 1 Black Canyon hand crew of about 12 members (Santa Fe County), 4 Grand Ronde helicopter repellers from Oregon. (Repellers are needed due to difficult accessibility.)

Local communities may be impacted by smoke because of prevailing winds. Smoke-sensitive individuals and people with respiratory or heart disease are encouraged to take precautionary measures. Information on air quality and protecting your health can be found online at the New Mexico Department of Health’s website nmtracking.org/environment/air/FireAndSmoke.

Fire updates are posted on the New Mexico Fire Information website at nmfireinfo.com, on Facebook facebook.com/santafeNF, and on Twitter @SantaFeNF. For more information, contact the Santa Fe National Forest Public Affairs Office at 505-438-5320.

Fire near Glorieta Lookout

Also yesterday (June 4), Hill reported lightning sparked a fire 1.5 miles east of the Glorieta Lookout west of Forest Road 375 in the Pecos Ranger District of the Santa Fe National Forest. That fire burned half an acre and is 100-percent contained.

SFNF Officials inform public to vacate due to forest closure

Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) officials are patrolling the forest to inform members of the public of the forest-wide closure that went into effect June 1.

Forest officials implemented the forest-wide closure to prohibit public access to the 1.6 million-acre forest for public safety and forest health while in high to extreme fire danger.

“We’re trying to notify as many people as possible of the closure and the need to vacate,” said James Melonas, forest supervisor. “Our campaign to notify the public through news media, social media, and our email subscribers has been pretty vigorous. Our current focus is on signage and face-to-face engagement with the public in as many parts of the forest as possible.”

The closure order prohibits all recreational activities on the SFNF and will remain in effect until the forest receives enough moisture to lift the closure order. Campgrounds, trails and trailheads, and National Forest System roads are closed to the general public. County and state roads that cross Forest Service lands are not under USDA Forest Service jurisdiction and will remain open to vehicular traffic.

The SFNF implemented Stage 2 fire restrictions on May 7, which prohibited campfires and other activities. In spite of the Stage 2 restrictions, forest law enforcement and fire prevention personnel counted more than 120 abandoned campfires across the forest, including at least 84 over the Memorial Day weekend.

“The indices our fire team uses to predict fire danger are at historic levels well before we can expect any significant moisture from the seasonal monsoons,” said Melonas. “But in addition to extremely dry conditions across most of the forest, we have also seen widespread noncompliance with Stage 2 restrictions. Under current conditions, one abandoned campfire could cause a catastrophic wildfire, and we are not willing to take that chance with the natural and cultural resources under our protection and care.”

Area businesses will remain open during the closure.

“Our tourist attractions, restaurants, shops and galleries are ready to welcome visitors,” said Village of  Jemez Springs Mayor, Roger Sweet. “We are all worried about current conditions on the forest. Although a closure does affect our local economy, if wildfire destroys the forest, we have no economy.”

“We hate to see it happen,” said Pecos business owner, Frank “Pancho” Adelo, “but too many people don’t respect the rules of the forest or understand the consequences of a wildfire.”

In addition to government employees on official duty, firefighters and private property owners, the order may include additional exemptions for special use permit holders, contractors, Native American tribes and others whose business on USDA Forest Service lands does not raise the risk of wildfire.

Violations of the closure order carry a mandatory appearance in federal court and are punishable as a Class B misdemeanor by a fine of not more than $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations and/or by imprisonment for not more than six months.

Forest managers use several criteria to determine when to implement restrictions, including fuel moistures, current and predicted weather, values at risk from wildfire, fire activity levels and available firefighting resources.

The closure order is posted under Alerts and Notices on the Santa Fe National Forest website. Fire restrictions in New Mexico can be found at https://firerestrictions.us/nm/ and fire updates are posted on the New Mexico Fire Information website at www.nmfireinfo.com.

For more information, call the Santa Fe National Forest Supervisors Office at 505-438-5300.