Smoke, intense heat and rugged terrain were making it difficult Thursday for fire managers in northern New Mexico to size up a blaze that was racing across thousands of acres of dead and downed trees deep in the Pecos Wilderness.
Officials had estimated that the Jaroso Fire had ballooned to 8,000 acres on Wednesday. However, infrared mapping done overnight put the burned area at nearly 4,000 acres.
Still, officials on Thursday described the behavior of the flames as unprecedented. Years of buildup within the forests have combined with dangerously dry conditions to make for extreme fire danger across New Mexico and many parts of the West.
“We’ve had several years of drought conditions and we’re seeing overcrowded forests. The conditions are the same here as they are in other forests around the country,” said Dorotea Martinez, a spokeswoman with the Carson National Forest.
The entire Pecos Wilderness has been closed in both the Santa Fe and Carson forests, and Thursday’s closure order includes the Trampas, San Leoandro, Santa Barbara and the Ripley Point trails on the Camino Real Ranger District. Those who violate the order could face stiff fines or prison time.
Crews battling two other fires in the Santa Fe National Forest have been making progress. The Thompson Ridge Fire on the Valles Caldera National Preserve was 75 percent contained Thursday, and crews working on the Tres Lagunas Fire north of Pecos had contained 80 percent of that fire.
Firefighters have been dealing with hot, dry and windy weather in recent days. Forecasters with the National Weather Service were predicting more dry thunderstorms on Thursday evening and some rain in the central and southern portions of the state today.