Small fire fizzles out above Los Alamos

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Blaze > Thunderstorm brings rain, hail and lightning to area

By The Staff

With each dry thunderstorm that moves across New Mexico, the chance of another wildfire breaking out goes up. But experts say it’s the wind that will help determine whether the state has another record season.

A small fire broke out in the Jemez Mountains just above Los Alamos Friday after a thunderstorm pummeled the area with rain and hail.

The fire lasted for about 20 minutes before it appeared to go out on its own, before it sputtered to life again a short time later.

Justin Grider, a deputy chief with the Los Alamos Fire Department, said they were monitoring the situation and contacted the NM Forest Service, since the fire is on Forest Service land.

Grider was told that since the source of the fire seems to be located within the burn scar of the Las Conchas Fire, they were going to take a wait and see approach rather than try to hike in and put it out. Grider said the Forest Service believes the small blaze will probably run out of fuel shortly and burn itself out.

Grider proved prophetic as on Saturday morning, there was no smoke in the area of the fire.

There also was report of smoke in the Bandelier National Monument. Park Friday morning.

“Fire staff and law enforcement looked for a fire start but did not find or see anything,” park spokesman Claudia Brookshire said.

The Thompson Ridge Fire, meanwhile, remains 75 percent contained at just more than 24,000 acres.

The Saturday morning update said, “Last night fire activity was minimal, and there was no new growth on the fire. Night shift crews patrolled the perimeter and addressed hotspots near the fireline. Saturday firefighters will continue to patrol and mopup any hot spots within the perimeter of the fire. Rehabilitation around South Mountain will continue as firefighters remove snags and chip felled trees.

National Guard crews will assist firefighters with removal of hoses and equipment from areas that are no longer under threat from fire. More than 93 square miles of New Mexico’s tinder-dry forests have burned in the past two weeks.

Firefighters are battling a handful of blazes in the Santa Fe National Forest, on private land near Whites Peak and in rugged territory in southern New Mexico.

The flames are being fueled by dense forests, terrain and dry conditions.

However, New Mexico State University wildland fire management specialist Doug Cram said Friday the wind hasn’t been as big of a factor this year.

“For the most part, these haven’t been big wind events,” he said. “Could this be another record setting year? I don’t know. If the winds get to blowing 30 mph and gust to 50, then it’s possible.”

New Mexico broke records in 2011 and 2012 with massive wind-driven wildfires — first the Las Conchas blaze in the Jemez Mountains, then the Whitewater-Baldy Fire that raced through the Gila National Forest to become the largest in the state’s recorded history and the Little Bear Fire that destroyed more than 240 homes near Ruidoso.

During those two years, La Nina — a weather system famous for pushing moisture from New Mexico — also brought with it fierce spring winds. The state has seen more of a normal spring this year as the La Nina cycle gets broken, resulting in less wind, said Brent Wachter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.

The downside, Wachter said, is the state is seeing more lightning this spring.

Thunderstorms were expected across New Mexico over the weekend. Some of those systems looked like they might move slower and bring rain, which could help firefighting efforts.

Right now, the largest fire burning in New Mexico has charred more than 37 square miles on the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Firefighters had contained about 75 percent of the blaze by Friday.

On the other side of the Santa Fe National Forest, crews continued to make progress against the Tres Lagunas Fire.