Hidden fuels still a threat in northern blazes - Albuquerque Journal

Hidden fuels still a threat in northern blazes

Smoke rises from the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire on May 18 as seen from Llano. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

Three things keep Jason Coil up at night.

That’s “duff,” or ground matter like pine needles; thick, dead logs called “thousand-hour fuels” that stay dry despite moisture; and parched roots that burn underground and surface elsewhere, like a fuse.

“We’re going to be dealing with a lot of issues … But we haven’t lost sight of those three things that will continue to present a threat,” Coil, operations section chief on the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire, said during a briefing Tuesday evening.

Despite those challenges and a forecast of more critical fire weather, the 2,900 firefighters are still making progress. The blaze is currently 311,148 acres and 42% contained.

Coil said crews are reinforcing containment lines along the fire’s edge in the north but, overall, things are looking good. He said crews in the area remain vigilant.

“We still don’t trust that nothing’s going to come out of here in the coming days,” Coil said.

Alex McBath, operations section chief, said the east side has remained contained and they haven’t received 911 calls of possible new starts in days. He said the progress has led them to reevaluate possible changes to the evacuation status of areas near Rociada.

McBath said firefighters have continued to work at containing the blaze on the southwest end around Barillas Peak. He said they are doing structure protection in the Pecos area, but officials believe the fire will want to move north, if anywhere, and not south toward communities.

Stewart Turner, fire behavior analyst, said the area finally got some precipitation.

About 1/100th of an inch of rain fell over 50% of the fire.

“Some were winners, some were losers,” he said, adding that the added humidity helps moisten dead fuels like “duff.”

Turner said that still leaves the threat of the “thousand hour fuels,” which are logs as dry as store-bought lumber for woodstoves. He said the fire hides out inside those logs.

Turner said a drying trend is expected to hit Wednesday, raising temperatures and lowering humidity into the weekend. The weather chart that was green last week had shifted again into the tans and reds of critical fire weather.

Turner said he expected the northwest winds to assist crews by blowing the fire back upon itself on the north and west sides. He said crews may see fire “come back alive” in Chacon and Upper Colonias in the south but did not expect significant growth.

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