Blue skies have returned to Santa Fe as wildfires near the city appear to be dying out, but firefighters warn the Medio Fire continues to move westward and smoke will return as fuel dries after recent rain.
The Caja Fire west of the city limits is reported at complete containment as of Saturday, when the Santa Fe National Forest said it had burned about 158 acres.
Meanwhile, on the larger, more complex Medio Fire, high-level incident management crews are beginning to redeploy resources—moving firefighters off this job and on to more urgent fires in other states. Still, 250 personnel, including some local teams, continued to staff the Santa Fe fire as of Sunday.
The fire burned an estimated 3,438 acres north of Santa Fe and east of Chupadero and is at 55% containment, US Forest Service officials said during an online update Sunday night.
Officials have said both fires were caused by lightning, the Caja Fire on Aug. 23 and the Medio Fire on Aug. 17.
Rain over the weekend helped squelch the Medio Fire in particular, firefighters said. But at the same time, winds whipped the western edge and storms interfered with burnouts that had been planned.
Southwest Area Incident Commander Carl Schwope said big logs that got drenched by rain are still burning and will dry out and keep the fire active in the coming days.
"It has not rained enough to just put the fire out," he said.
Homes in the Pacheco Canyon area are also considered safer now, with a press release noting, “the threat to these homes continues to diminish with each passing day, although structural protection equipment remains in place as a safety precaution.”
"Today, Pacheco Canyon is secure and the work that we have—the western flank work still to do—we are feeling pretty good about that," said Sandy Hurlocker, US Forest Service Española District ranger.
Operations Section Chief Buck Wickham said Sunday's work for firefighters included "suppression repair," which includes digging ditches and building water bars near hand lines to route stormwater and help prevent erosion and keep fire lines from affecting use of the trail system in the future.
A small "slop over" spot fire that jumped the northern perimeter near the Rio Nambe on Saturday was out as of Sunday, he said.
A closure order remains in effect for US Forest Service lands, roads and trails, within an area that is roughly defined by the Rio Nambe Trail #160 on the north, the Borrego Trail #150 and Forest Road 412 on the east, Forest Road 102 on the south and back up the forest boundary line on the west to meet the Rio Nambe Trail #160.
Air Resources Advisor Rick Graw said the smoke expected over the coming days is dependent on the success of backburning operations, with some low points in air quality on Monday night and Tuesday morning. Updated smoke and air quality information is available here.