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Fire danger to shut much of Cibola National Forest

SANTA FE, N.M. — Picnics, hikes and mountain bike rides in the Cibola National Forest will soon be on hold until further notice.

Most campgrounds, picnic areas, trails, trailheads and forest roads in Mountainair, Sandia and Mount Taylor ranger districts of the Cibola National Forest are closing to all recreational activities indefinitely due to extreme fire danger, the Forest Service announced Monday.

Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands officials said Monday that the shutdown – starting as early as Friday – will remain in effect pending a significant amount of moisture and subsequent decreases in fire danger.

“The Cibola is a high-use forest so this is not a decision that we made lightly,” said Matt Rau, fire staff officer, in a statement. “The forest is tinder dry and the monsoons may still be a few weeks out. We need to take every action possible to reduce the risk of human-caused fires.”

The order is effective Friday for the Mountainair and Sandia districts, and in place June 22 for the Mount Taylor district.

Most national forest trails in the Sandia Mountains – including La Luz Trail and those near Tijeras – will be closed until the area receives significant rainfall.

“I guess it has been like this, so it’s not a big surprise,” Jonathan Hidalgo, 18, said while starting a hike on La Luz Trail in 90-degree temperatures on Monday. “For the fire danger, it does make sense.”

Exceptions to the order include government employees on official duty, firefighters and private property owners, special-use permit holders, contractors, Native American tribes and others whose activities do not raise the risk of wildfire.

There also is an exception in the Sandia district for Foothills Trail No. 365, the Sandia Peak Tram and the Sandia Ranger District Administrative site, which includes the Tijeras Pueblo, trail, programs and facilities, forest officials said in a news release.

The Cibola National Forest announcement won’t affect Albuquerque Open Space trails until those trails cross into the National Forest, said Philip Clelland, a spokesman for Albuquerque Parks and Recreation Department.

That means some of the trails in the Sandia foothills will be open in part and closed once hikers leave city property and enter the forest, he said.

“There probably will be some sort of caution tape … to keep people from going farther on those trails,” he said.

The city hasn’t decided whether it will close either the foothills trails or the trails in the bosque. Albuquerque Fire Rescue currently has listed the fire danger at very high.

“As soon as they raise the level (to extreme), then we’ll go ahead and implement closures,” Clelland said.

Anyone caught violating the order could be found guilty of a Class B misdemeanor and face a fine of $5,000 for individuals or $10,000 for organizations, and/or imprisonment.

Many popular outdoor recreation sites in northern New Mexico have already been closed.

Santa Fe National Forest earlier this month closed 1.6 million acres of public land spanning six counties.

Popular recreational areas within Santa Fe National Forest include the Jemez Falls campground and trails near the Gilman Tunnels.

On the way to Ski Santa Fe, the Aspen Vista Trail, Winsor Trail and others are closed, as are popular fishing and camping sites along the Pecos River north of Pecos.