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Rain may ease bans on use of forests

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Officials say bosque restrictions to stay in place for near future

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Recent rain has pelted the peaks of the Sandia Mountains, hammered parts of the South Valley and wetted much of the area around Santa Fe, leading to the possibility of reopening national forests and even providing some much-needed irrigation water to farmers.

Officials in the Sandia Ranger District have been watching as humidity has increased along with fuel moisture levels after several days of consistent rainfall, leading them to consider the possibility of ending the restrictions placed on travel into the Sandias and elsewhere.

In the past week, between half an inch and 2 inches has fallen over central New Mexico. Most of Santa Fe County has seen about an inch of rain in the last week.

The forest restrictions were imposed at the beginning of the fire season, when extreme drought and high temperatures sucked the moisture out of forest fuels and created extreme fire danger.

In early June, most all trails were closed in the Sandias, including those that branch off from the Sandia Peak Tramway atop the mountains.

Farther north, the Santa Fe National Forest – hit by three major fires – also has been almost entirely shut down. There, too, officials are considering reopening parts of the forest thanks to recent rains.

Sandia Ranger District spokesman John Helmich said officials this week are discussing lifting the ban, but he didn’t say when that might happen.

“The conversation is being had,” Helmich said.

When the ban was imposed, officials had no clue when or if the monsoon would come, Helmich said, but they hoped they would come and come early.

“You cannot operate with the assumption that we will have monsoons. You have to operate based on the conditions on the ground.”

Information officers from other ranger districts, including in Mountainair and Magdalena, could not be reached for comment about the potential for easing fire restrictions.

City and county fire officials said the restrictions on the bosque in and around Albuquerque will remain in place for the near future.

Rain at times this week has been heavy. More than 2 inches of rain fell in the South Valley within three hours Monday night, filling 400 acre feet of the 580-acre-foot basin behind the Amole Dam.

Jerry Lovato, chief engineer for the Albuquerque Metropolitan Area Flood Control Authority, said it was refreshing to see the Amole Dam almost full of rainwater, saying it looked like a small lake.

“We’re providing water to the farmers down there, I’m happy to say,” Lovato said.

The most rain fell between the intersection of Rio Bravo Boulevard and Second Street and Interstate 40 and 118th Street, Lovato said.

In Santa Fe, part of the LaFarge Branch Library was drenched after a flood of water gushed under a door, soaking the carpet and sending staff and patrons scrambling to move books and computer equipment. And the body of a 51-year-old woman was found Monday snagged on tree branches in a Santa Fe arroyo, the apparent victim of drowning after heavy rains.

Meteorologists are forecasting a chance of rainfall through Friday, with the potential for rain dropping this weekend.

Slightly more than 1.6 inches has fallen at the Albuquerque International Sunport this year, which is still 1.9 inches below the average rainfall at this time of year.

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