Monsoon relief comes early - Albuquerque Journal

Monsoon relief comes early

A U.S. Forest Service member stationed along Forest Road 333 on Thursday in the Sandia Mountains. Officials announced they will reopen most of the state’s national forests after an early monsoon onset quelled fire concerns. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

The last few months could be summed up by a popular folk song: Fire and Rain. And both elements were record-setting in their own ways.

The former brought the two largest wildfires in the state’s history – destroying hundreds of homes and shuttering forests. The latter settled in last week in “unprecedented” fashion and spurred officials to reopen forests in time for wildflowers, stargazing and mushroom hunting.

The U.S. Forest Service announced that Santa Fe, Carson, Lincoln and Cibola – which includes the Sandia Mountains – national forests will open to the public and allow campfires starting Friday. The National Park Service followed suit, reopening Bandelier National Monument under the same conditions.

The areas had been shut down since last month as the state faced relentless critical fire weather consisting of dry air and gusty winds while battling multiple wildfires.

Firefighters have gained ground on the two largest, the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire in the Santa Fe National Forest and Black Fire in the Gila National Forest, which sit at 341,471 acres with 72% containment and 325,128 acres with 68% containment, respectively.

The Cerro Pelado Fire area in the Jemez and Pecos/Las Vegas portions of the Santa Fe National Forest, the Bear Trap area near Magdalena and northern portions of Carson National Forest and parts of the El Rito area will remain closed due to ongoing fire suppression and cleanup.

A sign blocks the way to La Luz Trail off Forest Road 333 on Thursday in the Sandia Mountains. Much of the state’s forests have been closed since mid-May due to wildfires and extreme drought conditions. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

“We’re relieved by the early onset of monsoonal flows, not just for decreasing fire danger and activity but also getting people back into the Forest,” Carson Forest Supervisor James Duran said in a statement.

The Santa Fe, Carson and Cibola national forests had previously not been closed due to fire concerns since 2018.

The Lincoln National Forest – which saw the McBride Fire burn hundreds of homes earlier this season – hadn’t shut its doors to the public in over a decade.

That area saw up to 5 inches of rain just in the past week. To put it into perspective, Lincoln sees summer totals between 8 and 14 inches.

“The rain we’ve gotten is significant,” Lincoln National Forest Fuels Specialist Josh DuBoise said in a statement. “The ongoing rains have actually increased moisture levels to above-average for this time of year.”

The Santa Fe National Forest has seen between 2 and 5 inches of rain, while Carson National Forest has seen up to 2 inches, according to maps provided by the National Weather Service. Parts of the El Malpais and Cibola National Forest northwest of Socorro saw up to 8 inches of rain.

Officials said the monsoon hasn’t hit this early in recorded history.

“This year is unprecedented,” meteorologist Andrew Church said. “There’s not another year since 1905, that compares to this early onset.”

The start of the monsoon season for central and northern New Mexico has generally been the first week of July. Previous early instances recorded the rains beginning in the “very last days” of June.

Church said there is a “robust” start predicted this year that will taper off in August and September, similar to what was seen in 2021. He said the monsoons have really helped tamp down fire behavior but concerns of flooding remain.

Church said a backdoor front will move into northeast New Mexico this coming weekend. “So we’re very concerned about the flash flooding threat for the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon burn scars,” he said.

Church said heavier rainfall will stick around over northern New Mexico while other areas of the state will see a break before thunderstorms ramp up and persist into next week.

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