High record-breaking temperatures coupled with a diminished monsoon season means that New Mexico’s fire season will extend further into August, forecasters expect.
This comes as the Black Feather Fire sparked in the Santa Fe National Forest Saturday afternoon, started by a lightning strikeand grew to 2,000 acres over the weekend.
Two remote, small communities in Rio Arriba County were put on notice to potentially evacuate Monday.
People living in Mesa Poleo and Mesa Pinabetal will need to evacuate if the fire jumps across Forest Road 93 to the northeast, said Major Lorenzo Aguilar, with Rio Arriba Sheriff’s Office, in a phone call with Source NM.
Rio Arriba County has an evacuation site at the Coyote Senior Centerabout a 20-minute drive east of the communities.
Rio Arriba sheriff deputies went door to door on Sunday to warn residents.
“The majority of residents are older, and they don’t have phone or internet access,” Aguilar said.
He said there were between 12 to 15 people living there, and most people voluntarily evacuated already. Five people chose to stay behind, as of Monday evening.
“We just make sure we know who lived there. How many people were there, their names, the next of kin,” Aguilar said.
Red Flag Warnings, which indicate more dangerous conditions for fires to spread, were in effect for much of northern New Mexico, Monday, as hot temperatures combined with windy conditions.
Gila has lion’s share of wildfires
There are currently 15 major wildfires burning across the state, according to InciWeb, a federal map of wildfire conditions. The vast majority are in southern New Mexico, and the bulk of those are in the Gila National Forest.
Some of the fires in the Gila are months old, burning tens of thousands of acres across wilderness areas. The Pass Firefor example, was ignited by a lighting strike on May 18, and has burned nearly 60,000 acres.These conditions were expected based on predictions earlier this year, said Rich Naden, a fire meteorologist at the Southwest Coordination Center in Albuquerque, which is part of the National Interagency Fire Center.
He said the wet winter and spring slowed the opening of the fire season, but the weaker monsoon will be “extending the season much longer than usual.”
“We’re having fires or problematic burns well into the timeframe that normally we are not getting incidents,” Naden said.
The weaker monsoon is due to the temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, El Niño that often causes hotter, drier summers in the Southwest. El Niño, coupled with hotter temperatures from climate change, brought record temperatures in a heat dome covering parts of New Mexico, Mexico and Texas.
New forecasts show that the monsoon pattern will be sporadic in August. Sometimes it helps firefighting efforts, to slow fires, and give plants moisture, but other times, it can hurt, Naden said, pointing to recent lightning-ignited fires.
There may be some relief – eventually.
“I do anticipate a wetter mid-to-late fall and early winter for our region,” Naden said. “But we just need to get there, and we’re not there yet.”
2023 wildfires in New Mexico
Santa Fe National Forest
Black Feather Fire 2,000 acres, no containment
San Juan National Forest
American Mesa Fire 756 acres, 25% contained
Lincoln National Forest
Apple Tree Fire 365 acres, 65% contained
Gila National Forest
Divide Fire 26,514 acres, 94% contained
Pasture Fire 8,353 acres 21% contained
Dark Fire 2,052 acres, 5% contained
Prior Fire 10,121 acres, no containment
Porcupine Fire 3,244 acres, no containment
Turkey Fire 3,178 acres, no containment
Dolan Fire 2,100 acres, no containment
Noonday Fire 927 acres, no containment
Magdalena RD Hutchinson Fire 2,816 acres, 100% contained
Tub Fire 305 acres, 30% contained
Davis Fire 6,073 acres, 54% contained
Pass Fire 59,883 acres, 55% contained
There is also one controlled burn in the Carson National Forest Dorado/Cañada del Agua Prescribed Firewhich has burned 3,318 acres.
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