Wildfire makes 5-mile run in Pecos Wilderness

·3 min read

Jun. 15—Flames from New Mexico's largest wildfire made a five-mile run in the Pecos Wilderness on Tuesday, toward the Rio Valdez, and could see a repeat performance Wednesday, fire officials said in a morning briefing.

The new growth of the now 335,069-acre Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire in rugged mountain terrain packed with dry fuel is a reminder of the weeks of work ahead for wildland firefighters who have been battling it for more than two months.

"It's putting on a heck of a show," said Jayson Coil, an operations section chief for one of the incident management teams assigned to the blaze, "... but it's not threatening our lines."

The wildfire — which grew by nearly 10,000 acres in a day as flames were driven by heavy southeast winds, according to nighttime infrared imaging conducting by an aerial crew — sent up a massive column of smoke Tuesday.

"That smoke column made it all the way to Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas," Coil said.

"The fire most certainly is spotting," he added. "... We expect to see more of that today, even though the winds are going to be lighter."

Heath Barker, an operations section chief trainee for another incident management team, said "no real values were threatened" as the blaze made its run to the northeast Tuesday, meaning there were no homes or infrastructure in its path.

Winds grounded planes and helicopters Tuesday, he said, and the fire line was too dangerous to deploy ground crews.

The fire management officials said more moderate weather, including rains expected to come Friday through Monday, will aid in the fight to contain the blaze but also pose threats of flooding.

In the meantime, Coil said, residents will continue to see growth on the fire's western side.

"The fire will continue to move in the Pecos Wilderness to the west," he said. "We're going to keep doing our work until the monsoons are in full swing."

Coil, an assistant fire chief in the Sedona Fire District in Arizona, added, "I get that it's concerning."

His own home lies just two miles from a blaze burning near Flagstaff.

Crews attacking the Midnight Fire near El Rito, to the northwest of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, have begun to gain containment. The fire, at 4,905 acres, is 12 percent contained, with 382 personnel deployed to fight it — many who previously had been assigned to the larger wildfire.

"Yesterday, during an extreme fire weather day, firefighters' suppression efforts were aided to the north and east by previous fire scars and fuel treatments (thinning and other tactics) that had been completed by the Carson National Forest," forest officials said in a Wednesday morning report on the Midnight Fire.

"A mix of fixed wing and rotor aircraft assisted the firefighters throughout the day to slow spread and secure line," the report said.

The Black Fire near Truth or Consequences in the Gila Mountains is now 48 percent contained after burning 317,676 acres. It is the second largest wildfire in New Mexico's recorded history and could surpass the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire in acreage before it is fully suppressed.