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Burned areas to close

Pecos Fire map_detail
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The report of a team studying the aftermath of the Tres Lagunas Fire paints a grim picture of the potential for flooding and danger to people, property and stream water quality for the next two or three years in and around Pecos Canyon east of Santa Fe.

And the federal government’s interagency Burned Area Emergency Response Team is recommending closure of all or part of the 10,200-acre burn area north of the village of Pecos, smack in the middle of one of the most popular recreation areas in northern New Mexico.

The U.S. Forest Service is reviewing its options, according to Santa Fe National Forest spokesman Lawrence Lujan. “A fire closure is imminent,” Lujan said Tuesday. “The specifics as far as where and how long are still being determined based on the recommendations of the BAER team.”

The idea of forest closures doesn’t sit well with Pecos Mayor Tony Roybal, who said area businesses rely on travelers spending time in the forest. “The only way it will affect the village of Pecos is if people don’t come fishing and don’t spend money here,” Roybal said.

The BAER team report released Monday warns of “very high risk” of loss of life if people find themselves in or downstream of the Tres Lagunas burn in a rainstorm, and that N.M. 63, the only road through the canyon, would be a “limiting factor” for evacuations during a catastrophic flood.

The Tres Lagunas Fire, which has burned through steep and narrow terrain since late May and is now 90 percent contained, has left much of the burn zone devoid of ground cover. Some soils are now hydrophobic, or water-repellent. All of that adds up to flooding if heavy monsoon rains hit.

The BAER team’s report contains a laundry list of potential ruinous events in the canyon areas along the Pecos River dotted with vacation homes, cabins, campgrounds and year-round residences.

It says peak stream flows from monsoon rains are predicted to increase from two to five times post-fire. Residences “have a high probability of being affected by sediment and debris torrents.” Also, the report says N.M. 63 and private roads “may overtop and fail” and could be plugged by debris, and bridges may be weakened or washed out.

Residential wells “have a high potential of being inundated with storm runoff” and there’s a “high likelihood that the Pecos River could be contaminated by hazardous materials,” including septic waste and household chemicals.

Among the team’s recommendations is that Holy Ghost Canyon, along a creek that flows into the Pecos, and Forest Road 122 be closed for at least two years. Cabin owners could gain access “to allow for source point protection,” upon negotiation with the district ranger.

Or, the team says, the whole 10,200-acre burn zone could be closed for at least two years.

Recreation sites affected would be the Holy Ghost, Windy Bridge and Field Tract campgrounds and the Lower Dalton day-use areas.

The report also recommends using straw mulch to control erosion and aerial reseeding before the onset of the monsoons, removing debris jams from creek and river channels, channel realignment for Holy Ghost Creek and removal of hazard trees along forest roads.

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