The area has been closed for weeks now due to fires and the escalating danger of new blazes breaking out, but with more steep canyons and mountain sides being burned bare, post-fire flooding and erosion could end up having effects on the Pecos River that will last for years.
“That whole area is just going to be devastated, depending on where the rains come and how hard it rains. There are just a lot of factors that can kind of play into it,” said Jesse Lee, who works at The Reel Life fishing and guide shop in Santa Fe. “I think everyone is planning for the worse and hoping for the best.”
Hot, dry conditions and pockets of bug-killed trees have been fueling the Jaroso Fire since it was sparked more than two weeks ago. It has charred more than 16 square miles, and firefighters have not been able to wage a direct attack due to the dangerous conditions.
Fire managers said Wednesday the flames spotted and grew on the east-facing slope on the west side of the Pecos River.
By Wednesday afternoon, the flames remained unchecked and were threatening several campgrounds in the canyon, including the Panchuela area.
The Jaroso Fire came on the heels of the Tres Lagunas blaze, which was sparked just weeks earlier north of Pecos by a downed power line. That fire is now 90 percent contained, but scientists say nearly one-third of that fire burned with high to moderate severity through parts of Pecos Canyon.
With high severity burns, the prospect for erosion increases and whatever seeds are left in the charred soil are usually sterilized, making recovery more difficult. Some drainages within the scar of the Tres Lagunas Fire could see a tenfold increase in post-fire runoff and officials have recommended closing some areas for at least two years.
“We’re just really concerned about the community up there,” Lee said. “I think it’s going to affect them so much harder than the average recreationist. It’s going to be a complete game changer for the canyon.”
From the wilderness, the Pecos River flows south through several communities in eastern New Mexico and into Texas.
In southwestern New Mexico, the Silver Fire has raced through more than 134 square miles of the Gila National Forest. It was 20 percent contained by Wednesday afternoon and more firefighters had arrived to help on the fire’s western flank.
Officials expected the fire — the largest currently burning in the state — to keep marching north and west.
In all, wildfires have burned more than 200 square miles around New Mexico over the last month.