When lightning started the McClure wildfire in the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed on Thursday, June 23, fire managers threw a slew of resources at it, attacking first from the sky and then sending four hotshot crews in by foot to hike an hour and a half up steep terrain from their camp near Nichols Reservoir the following morning. The densely forested stretch of ponderosa pine just 3 miles northeast of the McClure Reservoir was initially considered at high potential to grow. Concentrated and swift response instead saw the fire 50 percent contained by late Friday, and 100 percent contained at 7.6 acres by 3 pm Saturday.
“Because it is in the Santa Fe Watershed and because of the values at risk—nobody wants to risk a resource that supplies 40 percent of the city’s water, and that’s why so many sources were put so quickly on a fire that really wasn’t very big,” says Julie Anne Overton, acting public affairs for Santa Fe National Forest. “The decision was made that we wanted to get this one contained and be done with it, rather than take any chances.”
Though the Forest Service has worked with city staff to thin forests and conducted prescribed burns in the watershed to prevent a catastrophic wildfire there, the area of the Pecos Wilderness where the McClure Fire lit hadn’t yet been targeted with any of those management activities. So there was talk of letting this wildfire simply go, Overton says.
“A lot of of times now with wildfire that’s not human-caused, we will consider managing it for resource benefit, and that is letting the fire do some of the resource work. … It might have been in the right place for a prescribed burn, but it was just not the right time,” she says. “While we do have the go-ahead to do some prescribed burns in that area through aerial ignition, fire season is not the time to do that.”
So that area could see fire again this year, as early as this fall.
Meanwhile, the Turkey Fire in the Gila National Forest and the North Fire in the Cibola National Forest, which had burned 6,920 acres and 42,106 acres, respectively, as of Monday, June 27, were being “managed for resource benefit”—allowed to burn as a way of restoring the natural fire cycle to those ecosystems and resetting the growth pattern in forests that might be overcrowded or diseased. The North Fire was 69 percent contained, and the area was seeing significant precipitation, according to New Mexico State Forestry.
The aircraft and most of the hotshot crews, which came from Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming and here in Santa Fe, have since been released from the McClure Fire. The Wyoming crew is the only one that remains, and they’re expected to be released in the next few days. The fire itself continues to burn toward burning itself out within its containment boundaries, with local fire staff from the Española Ranger District monitoring.
Last week, the Southwestern part of the United States was at a level four on a scale of five for wildfire risk. Following cooler temperatures and some rainfall over the weekend, and with the monsoon forecast to pick up shortly after Independence Day, the region, including most of New Mexico and Texas, has since been downgraded to a level three—moderate risk. Pieces of northwestern New Mexico and much of Arizona hover at high risk.
“I think we’re sitting pretty well right now because of the moisture we’ve gotten and the monsoon season looking like it’s going to be normal,” Overton says.
Over the weekend, wildfire managers were also dealing with the Goldmine Fire in the Ortiz Mountains south of Santa Fe, which has since been reported at 100 percent contained, having burned 44 acres. The Dog Head Fire southeast of Albuquerque, which had damaged 12 residences and 44 other structures, was 90 percent contained by Monday, June 27.