An SUV drives past a sign on the road to La Luz Trail in the Cibola National Forest showing that restrictions have been put in place because of fire danger. Fires throughout the state have closed sections of three national forests in New Mexico. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/)
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Officials with national forests in New Mexico said they are not yet considering closing the forests because of fire danger – a practice used some summers during dangerous fire conditions – despite the massive blazes threatening communities throughout the state.
But the officials said such closures could be deployed this summer. And one national forest is asking folks to stay away from a ranger district this Mother’s Day weekend, typically a popular time for families to hit the trails.
“All national forests in the southwest have (closed to the public) previously based on conditions,” said Julie Anne Overton, a spokeswoman for the Santa Fe National Forest. The national forests closest to Albuquerque—Cibola and Santa Fe—were closed to the public for stretches during the summer of 2018.
“We aren’t there yet. But it’s certainly a possibility for this fire season under the extreme drought conditions we’re seeing now,” Overton said.
This year, New Mexico’s fire season has gotten off to a frenzied start.
Sections of the Carson, Santa Fe and Cibola national forests are currently closed because of wildfires. And all three of those national forests are under Stage II fire restrictions, which means that no fires are allowed, including campfires in designated burn pits, stove fires and charcoal grills.
Parts of the Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico were burned in the McBride Fire and that forest has also put in place Stage II restrictions.
The Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger District, which is part of the Santa Fe National Forest, is closed to the public because of the ongoing Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire complex, which, at more than 165,000 acres, is currently the largest wildfire burning in the country.
Southeast sections of the Santa Fe National Forest’s Jemez Ranger District are also closed because of the Cerro Pelado Fire east of Jemez Springs. But the rest of that ranger district is open to the public.
Forest officials are, however, asking people not to explore the Jemez mountains this weekend.
“We’re asking people to steer clear of the Jemez district as well because of the Cerro Pelado Fire,” Overton said. “Normally, we would have huge crowds because it’s Mother’s Day weekend. And we are asking folks to please not come to the Jemez.”
There are no discussions at the moment about completely closing the Cibola National Forest because of fire danger, said Patricia Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Cibola National Forest. That forest’s Sandia Ranger District includes the Sandia Mountains on the east side of Albuquerque.
“Right now … there’s no talk of a forest closure,” she said. “That’s a really big deal. There are contractors out there doing stuff and things like that.”
There is a section of the Cibola National Forest’s Magdalena Ranger District, southwest of Socorro, that is closed because of the Bear Trap Fire, according to the forest service’s website. The website also shows a northeast section of the Carson National Forest is currently closed because of fires.
A spokesman for the Carson National Forest could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
New Mexico’s other national forest, the Gila National Forest, is under Stage I fire restrictions.
In prior years of extreme drought, the city of Albuquerque has closed open spaces because of fire danger.
Lt. Tom Ruiz, a spokesman for Albuquerque Fire Rescue, said the city is hoping to avoid that step. He said AFR officials think that cyclists and hikers, and others who use the bosque and other open space areas are an asset to the city because they can report fires quickly. He said the AFR is making regular patrols of open spaces, especially the bosque, because of the fire danger.
The city has put in place restrictions that prevent any campfires or open flames outside designated areas.
“As you walk through the bosque and you see any type of smoke or fire, call 911 immediately,” Albuquerque Fire Rescue Chief Gene Gallegos said during a Thursday news conference. “Our crews are doing an amazing job responding to any small fire in the bosque to make sure they don’t get out of control.”