The Santa Fe Fire Department often gets the call to head to fires in the forests of northern New Mexico. However, this year the department’s Wildland Division is hampered on where they can send their crew and when because of staffing levels. “The unique challenge that we’re having this year is actually getting the staffing levels up here. In the past we have hired up to 20 men to be on hand on the staff at fire station 9. This year, just unable to fulfill the staffing,” says Nathan Miller, wildland superintendent for the Wildland Division of the Santa Fe Fire Department. Miller says this year, they have just seven people on their wildland division — three of whom just returned from the Hermit Peak and Calf Canyon fires, which they helped fight for 14 days.
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Specialty aircraft from around the country and Canada are at the Santa Fe Airport to help combat the wildfires. The U.S. Forest Service also says its having trouble getting enough people and equipment out to New Mexico.
“At this time of year, when we’re having this kind of fire activity not all geographic areas are on the same preparedness timeline as the southwest is. And so some of those firefighting resources are not back to work yet for the year so that’s where some of those gaps are coming in,” says Punky Moore, fire communications specialist for the Southwestern Region of the U.S. Forest Service.
Officials from both agencies say having this severe of a fire season this early on is unusual. Moore says this is the worst early fire season they’ve seen over the past 15 years. Moore says there are about 2,000 firefighters in the Southwest forest region, which includes New Mexico, Arizona, and the panhandle. There are also around 31 aircraft stationed in the region.