SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – A prescribed burn, on a windy day, in the Santa Fe National Forest has erupted into a wildfire. This isn’t the first time this has happened.
Crews conducting a prescribed burn Wednesday say it quickly turned into a wildfire called the Hermits Peak Fire. It’s about 12 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Julie Anne Overton with the Santa Fe National Forest explains, “the thing you have to remember or realize about this fire is that it is in extremely steep, rocky terrain, very rugged, very remote.”
The forest service says the weather that was forecasted for the day fell within the parameters of a prescribed burn but they say the high winds in the late afternoon were unexpected and erratic.“The wind did push some embers outside the project boundary and we did have some spot fires,” said Overton.
This was the first time that particular area of the forest was being treated. “The conditions were very thick like lots of fuels in there so that did cause the fire to spread,” said Overton.
The fire is about 150 acres and additional crews have been called in to help stop it, including an air tanker, four hotshot crews and two additional engines. Officials say crews on the ground are hopeful they will get a handle on the fire in the next couple of days.
While prescribed burns are needed to keep forests healthy they can turn disastrous quickly. In 2000, the Cerro Grande fire started as a controlled burn and quickly got out of control because of high winds and dry conditions. More than 400 families in Los Alamos lost their homes and the fire caused $1 billion in damages.
As for the Hermits Peak Fire, there is some private property south of where it’s burning. Right now there are no structures threatened and no evacuations in place. “The primary values at risk are the Gallinas Municipal watershed which is the primary water supply for the city of Las Vegas, so that is our number one priority,” said Overton.
Due to recent legislation from Congress, there will be more of these forest treatments in New Mexico including thinning and prescribed burns.