El Cajete Fire is 65 percent contained

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By Sarah von Sternberg

According to the Santa Fe National Forest Office, El Cajete Fire has been 65 percent contained by fire crews. The source of the fire has been reported as an abandoned campfire.

The fire is burning in the Jemez Ranger District on the Santa Fe National Forest, on both sides of NM Highway 4 along the southern boundary of the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The Cajete Fire started approximately one mile northeast of Vallecitos de los Indios (Sierra de los Pinos) on Thursday morning. The fire area runs along the East Fork of the Jemez River and is west of the 2011 Las Conchas Fire burn scar and southeast of the 2013 Thompson Ridge Fire burn scar.        

There are approximately 323 personnel fighting the flames, including four Type 1 Crews, five Type 2 crews, nine engines, one dozer, three water tenders, two Type 1 helicopters, one Type 2 helicopter and two Type 3 helicopters.

California Interagency Incident Management Team 3, led by Mark von Tillow, Incident Commander, is managing the fire.

There was minimal growth overnight and the fire now covers 1,367 acres. Today, fire crews will patrol and monitor established containment line along the northern perimeter of the fire, while additional crews construct and improve line on the southern perimeter.

A team of firefighters will repel from helicopters onto Los Griegos Peak to begin scouting opportunities for direct fireline construction in rough terrain in an effort to contain the fire. Containment is expected to increase by the end of the current operational period.

A fire update will be provided this evening at 6:00 pm at the Jemez Mountain Baptist Church in La Cueva.

According to officials, NM Highway 4 will be reopened today at 12:00 noon. To ensure safety and security, Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office will provide escorts in both directions for motorists crossing through the burn area and motorists should expect major delays.

Julie Overton, a spokesperson for the Santa Fe National Forest Public Affairs confirmed that evacuees will be returning to their homes sometime today.

As residents return home they should consider that as the Cajete Fire burned, refrigeration was temporarily lost, and frozen foods warmed. Care must be taken in handling food that may have been damaged.

All businesses and recreation sites in and around Jemez Springs are open and accessible, with the exception of the Jemez Falls and Redondo Campgrounds, and the Los Conchas Trail, which remain closed.

Smoke from the Cajete fire will continue to impact air quality in the Rio Grande Valley. Smoke tends to be heaviest in the morning after settling with cool air at night.

Drones pose a serious risk to firefighting and can cause air operations to cease. The public is reminded that “If you fly, we can’t!”

Overton wants to remind the public that abandoned campfires are the leading source of human-caused wildfires. “Don’t leave the scene until the fire is dead out,” said Overton. “The potential loss from someone’s carelessness is very sad.”