Forest Fire Grows

Updated: Medio Fire north of Santa Fe is still only 5% contained, but crew members say containment efforts are starting to pay off

The Medio Fire burning in the forest north of Santa Fe is unlikely to threaten the Santa Fe Ski Basin, though many hiking trails in the area of the popular recreation site have been shut down to the public as the fire continues to grow, US Forest Service representatives said Sunday night.

The fire that has torched a reported 2,432 acres as of a report issued Monday at 8 am, and so far is still only 5% contained. A thick smokey still hung over the Tesuque valley and Nambe Pueblo Sunday blocking the mountains from view, and Monday morning, officials warned smoke would likely get worse as burnout operations begin.

The Forest Service did not report how many additional acres burned on Sunday due to windy conditions.

"We do know that there is some growth on the fire tonight however we did not have an infared flight to check on the growth last night," Information Officer Mindi Lehew said in an update about the fire livestreamed to Youtube Sunday. See the agency's interactive map here.

She said the number of crew members keeping the blaze at bay increased to 187 on Sunday.

When the fire began Monday, the crews tried to keep it contained between Rio Nambe and Rio en Medio, but the fire jumped over the river on Friday and rapidly spread south consuming 2,270 acres.

So far, the fire has been limited to Forest Service land, but its northwestern edge is near Nambe Pueblo's boundary and two tracts of Tesuque Pueblo trust land are immediately east of the fire. Over the weekend, crews burned fuels along Forest Road 102, trying to establish a new boundary to stop the blaze.

Operations Section Chief Buck Wickham said attempts to slow the fire by burning the eastern edge along portions the Borrego trail has successfully kept it from spreading into tribal land and the Santa Fe Ski Basin. He said he does not expect it to continue to grow in that direction.

Instead the fire moved northeast Sunday towards the burn scar of the 2011 Pacheco Fire, where Wickham hopes crews will be able to let it burn out safely. He said crews will continue to "herd the fire" towards the burn scar in the following days, and may ignite an area along the Nambe trail on Monday to stop the wildfire from continuing north.

On Saturday night, fire crews burned along the Viejo trail to slow the fire's growth to the west, and kept flames in check along the Southeastern edge of the blaze where the fire entered into an area that the Forest Service treated with prescribed burns in 2011.

Incident Commander Carl Schwope said the prescribed burn area is integral to protecting some of Santa Fe's most precious resources.

"The fire crews went in and could easily suppress it because the fuel was minimized," he said. "Had that fuel treatment not been there we would have been talking about fire south of the 102 Road and caught everything in that Ski Basin."

That area includes the edge of the Santa Fe Watershed, but officials said as of now it's several miles from the fire.

National guard helicopters that residents spotted flying over the area this weekend carried water from a dip site at the Nambe reservoir to the edge of the fire line to try to slow it down, while three planes flew in from Arizona and Colorado to drop chemical retardant along the fire's western edge to stop it from spreading further toward private residences and pueblo land.

Española District Manager Sandy Hurlocker said Sunday was "a day of thanks," noting efforts made "good progress."

Several homes in the Pacheco Canyon area are on the "ready" stage of three-tier "ready, set, go" evacuation orders, which means they should have bags packed and plans in place, said Assistant Santa Fe Fire Chief Martin Vigil.

All residents with landlines will be notified of potential evacuations through the Santa Fe Alert system. People with cell phones, however, should sign up for the alerts on the county website. Martin said orders will also be sent out via TV and radio, and Santa Fe County emergency personnel will continue patrolling the area to keep residents informed of updates.

Royce Fontenot, National Weather Service meteorologist with the incident management team, said temperatures were above average with low humidity Sunday. He expects temperatures to drop Monday. However, thunderstorms are predicted and that could either help the fire by bringing in rain or make conditions worse with high winds.

He also said the team plans to bring in an expert on Monday to study the impacts of the smoke, which is especially problematic for people without air conditioning in their homes and for people suffering from respiratory issues or COVID-19.

Local group the Three Sisters Collective put out a call for monetary donations, air conditioning units and air purifiers with HEPA filters on Sunday a Nambe Pueblo community member to deliver the equipment to elderly pueblo residents.

Members of the group gathered at Frenchy's Field in Santa Fe on Sunday night to collect air purifiers donated by Santa Fe residents.

Three Sisters Collective will continue collecting air purifiers and conditioning units at the park between 5 and 6 pm each day this week.

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