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Bigger, faster, earlier fires expected

C01_j02May_FireMapCMYK
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One silver lining comes from the feeble clouds that still haven’t dropped any serious rain over New Mexico this year, according to a national forest fire outlook released Wednesday.

The lack of moisture hasn’t propagated any “fine fuels” — grasses and plants that propel fires between trees and other flammable objects — since at least the 2012 fire season, according to the May wildland fire potential outlook created by the National Interagency Fire Center.

Apart from the lack of fine fuel growth, the researchers said, the fuel that already exists is dead or dying due to lack of moisture. That means faster, bigger, earlier fires this season in the West.

Other conditions in New Mexico are coalescing into a season of above-normal fire potential, at least through June. The monsoons are, at least in theory, going to bring some relief in July, but predicting the monsoon this year is proving difficult.C01_j02May_FireMapCMYK

Also, the forecasters said, weather fronts projected to pass north of New Mexico this season could whisk precipitation out of northern New Mexico and Arizona, potentially extending the fire season through August.

This month, the state should expect at least a bit of rain, but fire danger will increase through June and expand from the southern parts of the state to cover most of the north, as well. Those northern fire-prone portions will also see reduced fire risk, at least in theory, later than parts south. That’s because forecasters are projecting a more-timely monsoon for the south.

Moisture levels have been around 25 percent of normal in the Southwest and West, and drought continued at levels considered “extreme” or even “exceptional,” leading up to the fire season this year. Temperatures are slated to stay higher than normal, as well.

As a result of all these factors, the fire season is expected, in the West, to begin before June, which is when the NIFC considers normal. The first large fire in New Mexico ignited March 12 — a roughly 200-acre fire near Capitan. Fires had already ignited in Colorado before then.

Since March 12, the state has seen smaller fires all over the state, from as far north as Shiprock and as far south as Carlsbad.

Fire managers in local, state and federal agencies are asking that forest dwellers work to limit fire risk around their homes, and they’ve warned campers and hikers that mere embers could spark a potentially devastating forest fire this summer.

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