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Fire crews on Saturday gained 50% containment as they continued to make progress on the massive blaze in northeastern New Mexico.
The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire stood at 314,228 acres.
The good news comes as the current fire crew prepares to hand off the baton to incoming firefighters.
Jayson Coil, operations section chief on the north end, said outgoing crews created “search-and-destroy map” to identify heat sources near the perimeter of the fire to be extinguished. He said they started that work on Saturday to further strengthen containment.
Coil said a piece of equipment working on a secondary line miles north caused a quarter-acre fire near Angel Fire but crews were able to contain it quickly. The incident led them to make changes on indirect line work – having fire engines ready where heavy machinery is digging lines and doing “spark producing work” in the morning instead of during the heat of the day.
“That doesn’t mean the work’s not going to be going on, it just means we’re going to change things,” Coil said. He said the fire continues to remain within containment lines in the north.
John Chester, operations section chief in the south, said crews assessed structures for possible protection in the southeast as the area saw an increase in fire activity.
He said crews are strengthening containment and mopping up hotspots around Barillas Peak as, a little farther north, they continue clean up from Bull Creek to Elk Mountain. Chester said the containment lines are still holding in the southwest.
He said the fire continues to grow near Spring Mountain and firefighters are building control lines.
Going forward, Chester said strong winds and low humidity are a concern.
Stewart Turner, fire behavior analyst, reiterated that point.
“The big news is that the red flag is going to be flying once again for (Sunday),” he said, adding that those critical fire weather conditions could continue into the week.
Turner said high temperatures, gusty winds and low overnight humidity recovery will leave forests dry and “available first thing in the morning.”
He said those winds could gust to over 45 mph but the “saving grace” will be that they will come from the southwest – which is favorable for the entire western side of the fire. Turner said those same winds could also test the containment lines on the north and northwest end of the blaze.
He said the critical fire weather is predicted to ebb midweek as thunderstorms are possible. However, that good news came with an asterisk.
“Unfortunately, that could be dry lightning,” Turner said, “which could mean probably some new starts.”
With the fire in sight and the 40th Annual Red River Motorcycle Rally in full swing, Taos County Commissioner Candyce O’Donnell tried to dissuade any lookie-loos.
O’Donnell said people need to drive safely, mentioning someone reportedly almost ran a firefighter off the road because they were distracted looking at the fire or helicopters.