The threat of wildfire is creeping closer to Santa Fe County, as the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire pushed beyond 300,000 acres burned this week.
“Every day it gets closer and closer, but the risk is real,” County Commissioner Henry Roybal tells SFR. He’s heard estimates from fire officials that the blaze could burn for another month and “it could come into Santa Fe.”
Roybal feels for Santa Fe’s neighbors who already have been affected by the fire, but his focus is on the potential danger.
“We need to be proactive and not reactive,” Roybal says. “We want to inform our constituents and we want to make sure that we’re ready and prepared for anything that comes our way.”
In a Wednesday wildfire preparedness meeting, Santa Fe County emergency officials didn’t dwell on the expanding fire in San Miguel and Mora counties. Instead, they zeroed in on how to prepare an evacuation plan and make structures more resilient in the event of a fire, acknowledging that a long fire season is still ahead.
Anthony Armijo, a wildland-urban interface specialist with the county, advised removing dead or dying trees and shrubs within 100 feet of homes to create a defensible perimeter.
Cutting up taller trees and distributing the debris around property to spread the fire and keep it low, Armijo said, is an important step to protect homes.
“Defensible space is an extra piece of insurance,” he said. “If you put in the time to create the defensible space around your house, do the work, then that’s going to act as insurance.”
Roybal told the audience of roughly a dozen people, “It’s difficult during this time of year. We’re all doing spring cleaning and we have a huge abundance of branches, weeds and things we need to get rid of.”
Rather than burn that debris, Roybal suggests bringing combustible material to transfer stations located around the county. He said he was working on an ordinance to allow residents to dispose of that material on weekends for free.
In addition to removing potential fuels around homes, officials pointed to two resources for Santa Feans to improve their wildfire preparedness.
The Ready, Set, Go Guide provides direction on what steps to take to prepare for evacuation: which important belongings should be taken, how to ensure the safety of pets and livestock and evacuation routes residents should consider taking.
Pecos is now under the “ready” evacuation status. Further up the Pecos River Valley, communities have been elevated to the “set” status. This online map of evacuations provides the most up-to-date information.
Another emergency service officials encouraged residents is a sort of reverse 911 communication system. “Alert Santa Fe” enables emergency officials to communicate with the public by sending text messages and making calls to those who have registered for the service.
The system provides alerts based on a location that residents select when they sign up. Even if someone is far away from their home, Alert Santa Fe will send a notification if there is a threat present—unlike other emergency notification systems, which provide alerts based on a phone’s current location.
Ignacio Dominguez, a Santa Fe County emergency management coordinator, said the system can also help first responders completely evacuate an area.
“This is really important if you have mobility problems, if you’re not able to leave the house without assistance,” Dominguez said, encouraging residents to help friends and family register for the communication system.