Bulky Super Scoopers and helicopters trailing water buckets have roared seemingly daily over Northern New Mexico during the past month and change, as a historic megafire has consumed 311,148 acres. The fire’s growth has largely stagnated in the past week as crews have slowly increased containment to 41%, as of Tuesday.
The bright yellow, amphibious aircrafts built by the Canadian airplane manufacturer, Bombardier, have become a common sight in New Mexico. At one point during the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, every Super Scooper in the country was located at Santa Fe Airport to fight the fire.
But another fire, in Southern New Mexico, is growing with little restraint, forcing officials to pull some Super Scoopers away from the northern blaze.
In just 11 days, the Black Fire has consumed 154,911 acres in the Gila. The human-caused fire became the fourth largest fire in state history. At 11% containment, the Black Fire is all but guaranteed to surpass the 2011 Las Conchas Fire, the third largest, that burned over 156,000 acres.
Conversely, it took the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire almost four weeks to reach 189,000 acres.
The Black Fire has burned through largely rugged and remote areas of Sierra, Grant and Catron counties, spurring evacuations. But the region has yet to see significant displacements, like those experienced in Northern New Mexico.
When the Mora County Sheriff’s Office came to his home in Buena Vista, telling him and his neighbors to evacuate, Joseph Weathers didn’t leave.
“They weren’t going to feed my cows. Nobody’s gonna come by and feed them,” Weathers tells SFR, estimating that he distributed over 400 pounds of dog food to his neighbors’ animals.
Weathers stayed behind with his son-in-law and grandson to protect his home and animals.
With flames only 200 yards from his house, aircrafts and helicopters circled nearby, collecting water from a lake to the south and dropping slurry over the fire.
“I thought I was in the middle of a war zone because all I hear is, you know, these airplanes flying over…my house,” Weathers tells SFR.
The Black Fire continues to challenge firefighters due to its size, rough terrain and limited access. Unfavorable firefighting conditions seen across the state are expected for the Black Fire, including shifting winds and high temperatures.
Increasingly large fires across the state, fueled by drought and climate change, have set the stage for perhaps the worst fire season in New Mexico’s history.
Officials are watching the perimeter of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire closely as it moves primarily along its western flank. On Monday, an infrared aircraft flew down the fire’s western edge to detect its boundary and officials found little movement in recent days.
The northerly winds forecast during the week are not expected to push anything out across the lines, said Fire Behavior Analyst Stewart Turner.
“With the moist fuels that we have around the fire I’m not expecting any of those to take or be any problem for the crews to pick up as long as they have their aircraft flying and assist with those,” Turner said during Monday evening’s fire update.
Critical fire weather—dry conditions and gusty winds—is expected to resume on Friday and stretch into the weekend.
While thousands were initially evacuated, several communities in the northwestern region including Angel Fire, Vadito, Placita, Rio Pueblo, Rock Wall, Las Mochas and Sipapu, have been downgraded to “ready” and residents have been allowed to return. Other areas remain under mandatory evacuation.
Find the most up-to-date map of evacuations here.