KUNM

Wildfire

Courtesy of Jill Werhane of Miami, N.M.

UPDATE 6/12 7p: The Ute Park Fire is now 92 percent contained and containment lines are holding around the fire as of Monday. Some smoke and flames may be visible in coming weeks until there's rain, but the burning won't cause the fire to grow, according to the New Mexico State Forestry Division. 

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UPDATE 6/9 7a: The evacuation orders for residents of Ute Park were lifted Friday, according to the New Mexico State Forestry Division. The Ute Park Fire is now 77 percent contained as it burns through pockets of vegetation within the perimeters of the fire. Crews will be patrolling and chipping up debris from thinning operations. Some firefighters are being reassigned to other incidents. 

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UPDATE 6/8 8a: Firefighters have corralled the Ute Park Fire on its western edge although Ute Park remains evacuated. The fire has consumed 36,740 acres and is 66 percent contained. Its still producing some smoke that is affecting Cimarron and surrounding areas. According to the New Mexico State Forestry Division, no homes have been burned but 219 are still threatened.

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UPDATE 6/6 7a: Growth of the Ute Park Fire has slowed as hot shot crews work directly on the western flank of the fire. Helicopters are dropping water, according to the New Mexico State Forestry Division, and no additional structures have been destroyed after the 14 that burnt at the Philmont Scout Ranch last week. The fire is now 30 percent contained. 

Ute Park remains under mandatory evacuation while residents of Cimarron were allowed to return to their homes on Monday. 

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UPDATE 6/4 5p: : The Ute Park fire in northeastern New Mexico spans more than 36,000 and remains about 23 percent contained. Sunday’s rain stalled the fire’s growth but didn’t stop it. The cause is still under investigation.

State Forestry Division spokesperson Wendy Mason said the good news is that lightning from the weekend’s storms did not start any new fires. But the forecast this week shows no rain in the area. "It’ll probably be going for a couple of weeks because it is so large and there is still a lot of dry fuel out there," Mason said.

People were allowed to return home to the village of Cimarron in phases on Monday afternoon, but the evacuation order was still in place for Ute Park, and the blaze was threatening 219 homes there.

It’s likely the blaze will move west, Mason said. Because most of the state is experiencing dry conditions, it’s been a busy fire season so far, she said, and there’s still a ways to go.

Melorie Begay

New Mexico’s wildfire season started off early this year, and spring winds could make it worse. For people living near forests, this means preparing for potential evacuations and fire proofing homes. But, for wildlife, there’s a lot we don’t really know. 

Laura Paskus/KUNM

New Mexico’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is late paying out millions in federal disaster relief money it owes local governments and contractors.

That money came to the state through FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and is meant to help communities clean up after natural disasters such as wildfires and floods.

Daphne Carrillo

UPDATE Wednesday, 29, 11:00 a.m.: The Dog Head Fire is 91 percent contained. A total of 12 residences and 44 minor structures have been damaged. The U.S. Forest Service says the wildfire was human-started, but they are still investigating how it happened.

Winds Whip Up Critical Fire Hazard

Mar 28, 2016
Kari Greer of US National Forest Service / Creative Commons

Nasty winds combined with dry air is  a sure-fire recipe for wildfire. On Tuesday, Central and Eastern New Mexico are facing the most widespread critical fire hazard in two years.

Billy Wilson Photography via Flickr / Creative Commons License

You can let the fireworks fly in Bernalillo County this Fourth of July, as long as they don’t fly too far. Abundant rain this year kept Bernalillo County from banning fireworks and other fires.

More Fire Could Benefit The Forest

Jun 1, 2015
Rita Daniels

This year’s spring rains and snow have eased New Mexico’s drought and made it less likely that we’ll see huge, damaging wildfires this season. But in the big picture, fire ecologists say it’s not a matter of if there will be fire, it’s when. They're trying to use flames now to protect watersheds for years to come.

dharma communications via Flickr / Creative Commons License

The most abundant types of forest in New Mexico are made up of piñon and juniper trees.

A five-year inventory of the state's forested lands shows the popular trees cover more than 13.6 million acres.

The inventory also shows piñon woodlands that are old enough to produce harvest-worthy quantities of pine nuts occupy about 8 million acres in New Mexico.

Fireworks Banned, Sort Of

Jul 3, 2014
Billy Wilson Photography via Flickr

Some New Mexicans can legally light their fireworks this Independence Day.

There is no statewide ban on fireworks but nearly all New Mexico counties have banned them in unincorporated areas this year because of extra dry weather.  For many counties, the ban went into effect weeks ago.

In Bernalillo County, Fire Marshal Chris Gober will be working this 4th of July and he said fireworks make his job harder.

Fireproofing Our Forests

Jun 24, 2014
Ed Suominen via Flickr / Creative Commons License

Can we make our forests fireproof? Do we want to? Recent large, devastating fires in New Mexico have swept away livelihoods, and threatened and destroyed watersheds and animal habitats. The U.S. Forest Service has undertaken projects to thin forests through prescribed burns and the removal of hazardous fuels...but to what effect?  We'll talk with residents, activists, the Forest Service - and YOU! - about how - and if - the needs and desires of stakeholders (human and animal) can be balanced in this time of drought and high fire danger.

New Mexico State Forestry Division / NMEMRD

This week, an American icon celebrates his birthday: Smokey Bear is turning 68.

He’s still a spry old guy, kept alive by the Ad Council and the US Forest Service. It’s New Mexico’s forests that have been taking a hammering. In 2011, the Las Conchas Fire was the largest in state history. Then this year, the Whitewater-Baldy Fire in the Gila National Forest doubled its record. This summer also saw the state’s most destructive wildfire, the Little Bear Fire near Ruidoso.

But believe it or not, there’s good news.

USDA, Gila National Forest

Even after the flames have died down, the impacts of a wildfire persist. Without tree and grass roots to absorb rainfall and hold soil in place, flooding can be a big problem.

In the wake of the Whitewater-Baldy Fire—which burned almost 300,000 acres in southwestern New Mexico—officials in the Gila National Forest have been working to get ahead of the summer rains and next year’s snowmelt.

Photo via www.flickr.com by JelleS

Researchers and ranchers are studying whether cattle grazing could significantly reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires in rugged areas of the southwest.  As Laurel Morales reports from the Fronteras Changing America Desk, firefighters had the toughest time fighting recent record-setting fires in steep terrain where dry grasses and other fuels had built up.