NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Nearly a year after the state’s second-largest wildfire ever tore through the Gila National Forest, and then triggered flooding for months, the U.S. Forest Service is trying to rebuild what was lost.

Flooding is still wiping out campgrounds in the Gilda National Forest almost a year after the Black Fire—keeping some of them closed for yet another camping season.
“As expected, as modeled, we did see some very large flows in some of the drainages coming off of the Black Fire; in particular, the east fork of the Gila River which flows right past Grapevine Campground,” says District Ranger Henry Provencio with the Wilderness Ranger District of the Gila National Forest.

As a result, Provencio says some of the Gila’s most popular campgrounds—like Grapevine—that generations of New Mexicans have enjoyed, are forever changed. “The campground as some folks may have remembered it no longer exists…It’s been scarified, it’s just full of sand, dirt. It’s a riverbed, essentially, is what it is today,” Provencio says.

However, rangers like Provencio are trying to figure out the next steps to rehabilitate campgrounds like Grapevine, where hundreds of outdoor enthusiasts set up camp each year.

“We did hear people, they want to get back in there—so how do we do that? How do we do it safely within our executive orders and policy that we have here at the forest service for recreational sites in a floodplain?” Provencio says.

The Forest Service already received more than $16 million dollars to put toward recovery after the Black Fire; $3 million of which is earmarked for repairs to recreational facilities like campgrounds. Now, they’re asking for the public’s help to figure out what that should look like.

“The public is key in this. We really want to understand what kind of needs they have and then how we can accommodate those needs within the policy and the regulations that we essentially are governed by,” Provencio says.

The district ranger says they’ve developed five alternatives for what they can do with the campsite, which they’ll present at a public meeting. Provencio says they hope to schedule that sometime in the next month, and have a plan finalized by summer.

“We had a[n] informal meeting with some of the community members immediately adjacent to the campground; that went pretty well. We’ve developed approximately five potential alternatives that we’re going to explore a little bit further and then we’ll have a public meeting in Silver City where we’ll display those alternatives and give the public the opportunity to provide comments and additional suggestions,” Provencio says.

As far as looking towards the fire season ahead, Provencio has a positive outlook this year: “I am optimistic. I still believe that we are going to see a lot of fires. Our moisture is probably the polar opposite of what it was last year. So, we monitor our dry fuels as well as our live fuel moisture and we are wet, to say the least…But with that moisture comes a lot of grass cover and so the grass is typically that element that carries and moves the fire through the forest. However, those extreme fire conditions are typically driven by very dry large fuels. So, we expect plenty of fire. We’re hopeful that those fires are not as destructive as what we had seen last year.”

Provencio says they are trying to work quickly on these projects because we’re heading into camping season, but they don’t expect the flooding to end any time soon: “this is only our second-year post-fire—we would expect that we’re going to continue to see flooding within that second year.”