Friday, March 31, 2023

Forest officials worried by New Mexico wildfire trail

SANTA FE, NM ( Associated Press) — More than 3,000 firefighters in northern New Mexico continued to battle the nation’s largest active wildfire on Sunday, with federal forest officials about future flash floods, landslides and devastating ash from burn scars. I was worried.

The 7-week-old fire, the largest in New Mexico history, remained 50% after burning 492 square miles (1,274 square kilometers) in rugged terrain east of Santa Fe.

The two planned burns merged to form a massive fire at the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains in the Sangre de Cristo range.

One of the fires was first detected on April 6, when a planned burn set by US Forest Service firefighters to clear small trees and brush was declared out of control.

On Friday, investigators said they tracked the source of the second fire to the remains of a planned January burn, which had been dormant through several snow storms to flare up again last month.

According to officials, the cost of extinguishing the fire has already exceeded $132 million, reaching up to $5 million a day.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has already asked President Joe Biden to instruct the Federal Emergency Management Administration to pay all costs related to a wide range of recovery efforts.

The Forest Service Burn Area Emergency Response Team has begun publishing data from post-fire assessments.

Micah Kiso, team leader and a soil and watershed program manager at the Santa Fe National Forest, said the steep mountain slopes had acted like a sponge before the fire broke out.

“Following the fires in some of these areas, especially areas with high soil burn severity and moderate, we’re now seeing a steep slope that’s like a parking lot,” Kiso told Santa Fe New Mexican.

He said this could indicate an “extreme change in watershed response” in the monsoon season.

According to Kiso, floods present another problem for communities near the burn mark with ash flowing into rivers and streams.

Many water treatment facilities are not equipped for the expensive, time-consuming process of filtering the ash. Experts say ash and debris with high levels of nitrates and phosphorus can damage water quality.

A hazard assessment by the Forest Service and the U.S. Geological Survey suggests that some burned areas of New Mexico fires may see heavy debris flowing if they receive about .25 inches of rain in 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, firefighters were expecting continued progress on the fire ahead of a possible return of dry and hot weather with strong winds from Monday.

“There’s a lot of potential left in this fire,” said event commander Karl Schwop of the Southwest fire team, which has been battling wildfires for the past 52 days.

Preliminary estimates suggest the fire destroyed at least 330 homes, but state officials expect the number of homes and other structures to rise to more than 1,000 if more assessments are made.

Elsewhere, 150 firefighters continued to fight the wind-driven fire that burned more than 8 square miles (22 square kilometers) of grass, brush, and salt cedar on the Arizona-California border.

The fire broke out on Thursday in the Colorado River Indian Reservation, 14 miles (24 kilometers) southwest of Parker, Arizona.

Wind gusts of up to 30 mph (48 kph) forced the evacuation of 15 homes on both sides of the river on Saturday, pushing the 44% containment figure to 34%.

However, fire officials said those potentially evacuated would be allowed to return home by Sunday evening. The cause of forest fire is being investigated.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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