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Wood stick structures raise fire fears in Santa Fe National Forest

SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) - They're a mystery in the northern New Mexico forest but also a major hazard, according to forest officials.

The Santa Fe National Forest is hoping to figure out who has been building giant wooden structures near popular hiking paths.

In the last several months, Forest Service crews in the Española Ranger District say they've found an increasing number of man-made structures, made of dead and downed wood from the forest floor.

While the structures are intricate and unique, Santa Fe National Forest Public Affair Officer Julie Anne Overton says the structures pose high risk to people and the surrounding forest.

"They may have as many as a thousand pieces of wood in them," said Overton. "Some of them are as much as two, sometimes even three stories tall and they can be as much as 20 feet in diameter."

The structures look like teepees made out of wooden branches. Some of them have been constructed around trees, while other stand on their own.

National forest crews are not only worried about the fire danger from the structures, but also their stability.

"They could come crashing down if somebody like a little kid walks into one of them, it could collapse on them," said Overton.

Overton says over the last year, crews have found around a dozen of the structures in the nearby National Forest land, mainly north and east of the Santa Fe city limits, towards the ski area.

"We've spotted a bunch of them on the Aspen Vista, Big Tesuque Drainage and even on the Windsor Trail," said Overton.

National Forest officials found eight of the structures off Tesuque Peak Road at Aspen Vista this week.

The Santa Fe National Forest says it doesn't know who made the "stick pyramids" or why, but they want it to stop.

Overton says the forest area hasn't received any precipitation since October, leaving a heightened fire risk. However, as dry as it is in the surrounding forest land, Overton says some of the wood structures appear to have even had campfires started in "fire-rings" inside of the structures.

"The wood is very dry, very seasoned," said Overton. "So it's really a huge fire risk."

Some of the structures have been fairly close to well-used trails, according to Overton. Crews are now working to dismantle the stick structures they've found, but also warning whoever's building them to stop.

"It seems to be kind of ramping up, so that's why we decided to put the word out that this is really not something we encourage," said Overton.

The Santa Fe National Forest says if anyone sees one of these structures to give their office a call or post it on their Facebook page. Take pictures and give crews a location of where the structure is located.

So far, Santa Fe National Forest says no other neighboring National Forests have reported anything similar.

The Forest Service says there's no criminal investigation into the matter at this point, but it is a misdemeanor crime to build a structure in the National Forest without a permit.

(All photos in this story were provided courtesy of the Santa Fe National Forest.)

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