The making of NM's largest wildfire - Albuquerque Journal

The making of NM’s largest wildfire

On the afternoon of April 6, Santa Fe Forest Service officials ignited a prescribed burn west of Las Vegas. Just hours later, the burn turned into the Hermits Peak wildfire.

A U.S. Forest Service review shows that, on that day, at least one firefighting vehicle ran out of water supplies, winds shifted and sparked multiple spot fires, and radio communication was spotty. Here’s how the Forest Service says the day played out:

8:07 a.m. Burn boss arrives at the prescribed fire unit.

9:30 a.m. Crews briefed at El Porvenir campground.

9:38 a.m. Dispatch relays the weather forecast. Predicts west winds in the region at 10-15 mph, with possible 25 mph gusts.

10:23 a.m. Burn boss documents go/no-go checklist and reviews National Weather Service forecasts.

11:34 a.m. Test fire started about 12 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Wind gusts 6-10 mph.

12:34 p.m. Burn boss declares test fire successful.

1:00 p.m. Crews begin ignitions on the west flank.

1:35 p.m. Small spot fire reported, but no control issues. Crew leaders discuss “being patient and not rushing the ignitions.”

2:26 p.m. Large spot fire reported northeast of the test fire site. One “firing boss” attempts to radio another for a status update, but gets no response.

2:39 p.m. Burn boss updates dispatch: “Everything is going good on the Alpha side, no concerns. On the Bravo side, we’ve picked up a few small spots and caught them, currently working a quarter-acre spot, should be able to hold it with engines, will call back later with another update.”

3:00 p.m. Wind shifts, with gusts up to 15 mph. Crews refill water supply for a vehicle fighting a spot fire.

3:30 p.m. Crews pause ignitions near the spot fires. Firing boss again fails to reach another on the radio. They later connect on a “crew net channel” to relay what is happening.

3:55 p.m. Burn boss tells dispatch that all ignition has stopped. Wind shifts noted.

4:06 p.m. Burn boss requests contingency resources.

4:15 p.m. Leader in the area of the spot fires reports “frequent spots across the line and not enough resources to catch.” Firefighting vehicle runs out of water. Lookout radios with messages about spot fires growing. The team disengages and regroups at a drop point.

4:20 p.m. Wind shifts cause multiple spot fires in different directions. A firing boss is unable to safely scout the burn’s west end.

4:21 p.m. Burn boss relays another request to mobilize the contingency resources.

4:25 p.m. Dispatch acknowledges the request. The contingency resources are in Taos at the annual Fire Summit training exercise.

4:50 p.m. The fire is heading north toward Hermits Peak and west toward the Pecos Wilderness. After a conversation between the burn boss and district officials, the incident is declared the Hermits Peak wildfire.

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