Expected wetter weather tames wildfire fears in New Mexico as fire managers remain cautious

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JEMEZ SPRINGS, New Mexico — An expected wetter-than-normal spring and possible more active summer monsoons have some fire managers hoping for a calm fire season in New Mexico this year.

Predictions of less wind than usual also have fire managers hopeful that the state can avoid large wildfires but they say those conditions can change rapidly, the Albuquerque Journal reported (http://goo.gl/DG6liC).

Last year's monsoons and some moisture late this winter resulted in more grasses than have been seen in New Mexico since 2009. That has some fire planners expecting fewer mountain forest fires but more lowland grass fires.

Already this year, more than 150 fires have burned about 10,000 acres of state-owned and private land. Three weeks ago, a fire in the Gila National Forest burned 25 acres six miles north of Mimbres.

"I have been in this business long enough to know you can't predict anything," said Bea Day, fire management officer for the Cibola National Forest and a U.S. Forest Service employee since 1985.

The Cibola encompasses the Sandia, Manzanita and Manzano mountains.

"We may get some moisture in here and that might delay at least the severe fire season," Day said. "We had more moisture from snowpack in the Sandias this year than we've had the last two years, but I think that is mostly gone and will be gone by the end of May or early June.

The four largest New Mexico forest fires over the past 25 years have all occurred within the past four years. For example, the Whitewater-Baldy Fire in the Gila National Forest charred more than 460 square miles in 2012.

Steven Miranda, fire planner for the Santa Fe and Kit Carson national forests in northern New Mexico, is hoping for a less-active fire season for several reasons.

"We've had a better winter, better snowpack than we have had in five years and now are getting some spring rains and less wind than we are used to," Miranda said.

Miranda said if the predicted precipitation actually occurs, it might give the Forest Service the opportunity to manage fires in different ways by letting them burn.


Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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