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The Santa Fe and Carson national forests will implement forest-wide closures this week as the largest wildfire in state history continues to grow across northern New Mexico.
The Cibola National Forest and Grasslands will also close the Mount Taylor, Mountainair and Sandia ranger districts to the public.
An extreme and early fire season prompted the closures, said Zachary Behrens, a Carson National Forest spokesperson.
High temperatures this spring are “preheating wildland fuels.”
“That makes things more volatile for existing fires, but also any new fire that may start,” Behrens said.
All closures will begin at 8 a.m. Thursday, May 19.
New Mexico’s forests are in extreme fire danger as the state endures another dry, hot and windy week.
More than 2,000 personnel are fighting the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire. Officials say they are trying to prevent any new fires from starting.
The following Cibola Forest areas, trails and roads will remain open:
• Sandia Peak Tram and observation deck. Visitors are banned from forest lands at the top of the tram.
• Tijeras Pueblo interpretive trail at the Sandia Ranger Station. Visitors must stay on the official trail.
• Portions of the Foothills Trail (National Forest System Trail 365) on the west side of the Sandias and secondary trails associated with 365 outside of the Sandia Mountain Wilderness and south of the tram.
• National Forest System Road 242 and 413 south of Tijeras.
The Santa Fe National Forest closure prohibits public access to 1.6 million acres of forest lands, recreation sites, roads, trails and trailheads.
Cibola and Santa Fe last had widespread forest closures in the summer of 2018.
Spokesperson Chantel Herrick said that it’s difficult to estimate when the closures could be rescinded because so many firefighters and forest employees are managing active fires.
As of now, the closures will remain in effect until Dec. 31 unless conditions improve.
“The Southwest kicked off the fire season really early this year,” Herrick said.
Fire restrictions remain in place for the Santa Fe National Forest, even for those who can still access the areas.
“You may be driving to your residence, but that’s it as far as where you can go,” Herrick said. “No campfires and no other activities prohibited under those Stage 2 restrictions.”
The restrictions on forest lands include welding, campfires, chainsaw use and driving off designated roads.
Law enforcement and firefighters are exempt from the closure order, as are residents using roads to access their private property.
“We’ll have people out there patrolling,” Herrick said. “Obviously, we don’t have gates on all of our roads, but there will be barricades, there will be signs up.”
Ranchers with grazing permits are allowed, but must abide by the fire restrictions.
The Carson National Forest closure covers 1.5 million acres.
“We’re all experiencing similar conditions,” Behrens said. “We have no significant precipitation in the foreseeable future. Even though there may have been a little rain (Monday), that provides only temporary relief. We really need significant precipitation to get out of these closures. When that will happen will be anyone’s guess.”
Closure order violations carry fines of up to $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations, as well as mandatory federal court appearances and possible jail time.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.