Plumes of smoke continue to rise into the sky on both sides of Santa Fe as wildfires burn and grow amid persistent windy conditions.
The largest of two blazes, the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, has consumed more than 203,920 acres, destroyed nearly 200 homes and led to the evacuation of thousands of families. US Forest Service firefighters say they lost some ground on the containment percentage Tuesday evening, clocking that figure around 39% by their best estimates. The fire grew in three directions, with the eastern edge mostly contained, though acreage estimates have not been updated since 9 am Tuesday.
The Cerro Pelado Fire in the Jemez Mountains has grown to 42,491 acres with 11% containment as of a 5:30 pm community meeting in Los Alamos, where residents got a day of clearer air. The fire is ablaze partly in the Los Conchas Fire burn scar, where grass and shrubs and dead trees are providing fuel, said US Forest Service Fire Behavior Analyst Robert Burnside. It is burning in Alamo Canyon but has not hit Frijoles Canyon.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham gave an update Tuesday morning, calling them “two very risky, extremely dangerous large fires.” She encouraged those within evacuation zones to pay close attention to readiness status and to take it seriously. (Remember green on the map means “go,” or evacuate immediately.)
Lujan Grisham called a news conference last week to warn of extreme wind expected over the weekend and a forecast that would adversely affect especially the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire.
“Given this extreme, historic wind weather, earnestly, this is the best possible outcome over the last couple days on this fire that we could have hoped for,” Lujan Grisham said. “We are not out of danger in any respect.”
The US Forest Service has already spent about $50 million on firefighting efforts on Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon, she said. The fire is on pace to become the largest in New Mexico history. The Whitewater Baldy Fire totaled 297,845 acres in 2012 and holds that distinction for now.
Evacuation status went to “ready” Tuesday for the Vietnam Memorial Area, Taos Pines and the Village of Angel Fire; with “set” status for Black Lake, Black Lake Resort and Hidden Lake in Colfax County—all north of the fire.
“This fire has enough energy, there is a possibility, with the models we are running, that those areas are going to see fire,” said Todd Abel, one of the fire operations sections chiefs, in a video update Tuesday night. Abel said Pecos isn’t immediately threatened but the fire is moving south with an open flank to the east toward Pecos National Historic Park.
Firefighters were unable to use fixed-wing aircraft, known as “Super Scoopers,” or helicopters on the fire Tuesday because of high wind, Abel said.
Additional evacuations were lifted in San Miguel County, though many communities remain in “set” status. New evacuations “ready” statuses are also in effect in Taos County, including for Sipapu.
The state Environment Department Drinking Water Bureau issued a “precautionary water advisory” Tuesday night urging nearly 4,000 residents who have been permitted to re-enter some evacuated areas to take caution with water. The advisory affects six public water systems in San Miguel County and nine in Mora County.
NMED recommends “all consumers of these water systems seek an alternate source of drinking water to ensure the protection of public health.” Private well owners should “have their well water tested at a certified drinking water laboratory to be sure contamination has not occurred. At a minimum, water should be tested for bacterial contamination,” the department statement reads.
Given the dry conditions and high winds, state lands are under an open burning ban and all the national forest offices have sworn off prescribed burning for the near future. (Santa Fe County has also adopted fire restrictions.)
“Do not throw a lit cigarette out the window. It will catch fire everywhere,” the governor said. “The risks are incredibly high. If we are going to deal with communities and support New Mexicans safely we have to mitigate risk in every other place in the state of New Mexico.”
On the Cerro Pelado Fire front, Los Alamos County remains in “set” evacuation level. The communities of Cochiti Mesa and the Peralta Canyon area, including Cox Ranch, remain under “go” evacuation status. Evacuations for Sierra de Los Pinos and Valles Caldera National Preserve remain in “set” status.
FEMA continues to seek those who experienced fire losses to register for benefits, and teams are on site in Lincoln, Sandoval, San Miguel and Taos counties. So far, the governor reports, 184 households have applied for and received about $130,000 in relief since a federal disaster declaration May 4.
To apply for help: Call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 or visit disasterassistance.gov/. To receive a link to download the FEMA app, which is available in English and Spanish: Apple devices: text APPLE to 43362; or Android devices: text ANDROID to 43362; or visit fema.gov/about/news-multimedia/app.
The USDA also announced disaster assistance to aid recovery from crop, land, infrastructure and livestock losses and damages.
Santa Fe County will present a town hall event addressing wildfire prevention and preparedness at 5:30pm Wednesday May 11, at Hondo Fire Station 2, 645 Old Las Vegas Hwy. It will be streamed live on the county’s YouTube channel.