Strong wind causes Coyote Fire to awaken

(UPDATED at 8:26 a.m. MDT May 25, 2016)

Coyote Fire map 3-D
Map, in 3-D, showing the perimeter of the Coyote Fire at 10 p.m. May 24 in red, and in yellow, the perimeter from May 16.

Pushed by strong winds over the last couple of days the Coyote Fire in Guadalupe Mountains National Park has grown by approximately 1,770 acres to about 13,590 acres. The fire started May 7 in the west Texas park and spread across the border into New Mexico.

After being downgraded from a Type 2 fire to a Type 3, it was escalated back to a Type 2 after the fire began spreading again on May 22. Richard Nieto’s Type 2 incident management team arrived May 24.

The area is under a Red Flag Warning on Wednesday.

The National Park Service has not provided any information on InciWeb about the fire since 5 p.m. on May 23.

Coyote Fire map
Map showing the perimeter of the Coyote Fire at 10 p.m. May 24 in red, and in yellow, the perimeter from May 16.

KRWG has an article about a fire crew comprised of veterans being assigned to the fire. Below is an excerpt:

New Mexico State Forestry is sending two crews from the Returning Heroes Wildland Firefighters program to aid wildfire suppression efforts at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas.  One crew arrived at the park today and a second is pre-positioned in Ruidoso in Lincoln County.

[…]

The Returning Heroes Wildland Firefighter Program was created to provide veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces with training and work opportunities to fight wildland fires. Previously a pilot program, Returning Heroes was made permanent and signed into legislation by Governor Susana Martinez in 2014.

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(UPDATED at 12:52 p.m. MDT May 24, 2016)

While we are waiting for an update from the National Park Service about the Coyote Fire in New Mexico and Texas, we’ll post this graphic showing the wind gusts out of the southwest and west at weather stations in and near in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Coyote Fire wind gusts
Coyote Fire wind gusts at 12:48 p.m. May 24, 2016.

The updated forecast for the fire area for Tuesday is for southwest winds of 22 gusting to 32, 87 degrees, and a relative humidity of 7 percent. Wednesday will be about the same, except the sustained wind speed will be 32 mph with gusts as high as 47 mph. Strong winds are in the forecast through Saturday.

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(UPDATED at 5:25 p.m. MDT, May 23, 2016)

map coyote fire
The yellow, red, and brown dots represent heat detected by a satellite on the Coyote FIre in the 24 hours ending at 2:41 p.m CET May 23, 2016, 2016. Click to see larger version.

Pushed by very strong winds, the Coyote Fire in Guadalupe Mountains National Park in west Texas flared up again, prompting the park to re-escalate the management structure back to a higher qualified Type 2 incident management team. Originally there was an initial attack organization running the fire, then a Type 3 team, then Type 2, then Type 3, and now it is going back to a Type 2 team. Transition periods from one team to another can be dangerous.

Strong winds on Sunday “pushed fire further past Bush Mountain ridge toward Guadalupe Peak” according to a news release by the park. We believe this area is on the southwest side of the fire and on the map is above the word “Park” in “Guadalupe Mtns. National Park”.

The weather forecast predicts very strong afternoon winds to continue through Thursday. Sustained winds during the daylight hours will be in the 25 to 35 mph range with gusts from 35 to 50 mph. The minimum relative humidity will be from 6 to 10 percent, and no rain is expected the rest of this week.

Only 10 percent of the fire is being fully suppressed. The other 90 percent is a combination of Confine, Monitor, and Point Protection strategies. The fire has been burning for 17 days. The longer a fire is allowed to spread without suppression, the greater the chance of encountering a wind event that could change the complexion of the incident.

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(UPDATED at 5:30 p.m. MDT May 16, 2016)

Coyote Fire map May 16, 2016
The National Park Service released this fire progression map on May 16.

On May 16 the National Park Service said they are “actively monitoring” the Coyote fire, which has burned 11,820 acres in western Texas and southeast New Mexico.

Yesterday: There was limited new growth on the fire yesterday. However, fire managers continued to actively monitor the fire as some heat remained in interior pockets of unburned forest debris and brush.

Today: Red flag weather conditions, including strong winds and low humidities, are predicted to develop over the fire area today. Crews will continue to monitor the fire for any wind driven flare-ups. Some interior smoldering is likely to continue, producing light, visible smoke.

“Although there was limited growth yesterday, we will remain vigilant,” said Eric Brunnemann, Superintendent of the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. “This is still an active fire area and may remain so for some time.”

Continue reading “Strong wind causes Coyote Fire to awaken”

Prescribed fire at Ft. Bliss in New Mexico

Above: Prescribed fire on Ft. Bliss in New Mexico, April 11, 2016. Photo by Shawn Giorgianni.

In the past, wildfires have escaped from the artillery practice ranges on Ft. Bliss in the New Mexico Organ Mountains near Rucker Canyon with some of them burning onto Bureau of Land Management and White Sands Missile Range property.

On April 11 personnel from the Fort Bliss Fire and Emergency Services Division completed a prescribed fire that will reduce the chance of a fire spreading outside the Doña Ana Artillery Range.

Fort Bliss is a U.S. Army post in New Mexico and Texas headquartered in El Paso, Texas. With an area of about 1,700 square miles, it is the Army’s second-largest installation, behind the adjacent White Sands Missile Range.

Ft Bliss map

New Mexico legislature approves joining interstate fire compact

New Mexico becomes a member if the Governor signs bill.

If the governor of New Mexico signs SB 138, a bill approved February 17 by the legislature on a vote of 62 to 1, the state will become the seventh member of the Great Plains Interstate Fire Compact, making it easier to share firefighting resources with Colorado, Wyoming, Saskatchewan, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.

A fire official knowledgeable about the Compact said two other states have expressed an interest in becoming members, Utah and Kansas.

Great Plains Interstate Fire Compact map
Provinces and states within the Great Plains Interstate Fire Compact, if New Mexico governor signs bill. Wildfire Today graphic.

There are at least six other fire compacts: Great Lakes, Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, Big River, Northwest, and Southeastern.

Drip torch carried on firefighter’s back leaks fuel and ignites, causing serious burns

Last summer a firefighter received severe burns to his back, both legs, and left arm after a drip torch attached to the pack on his back leaked fuel which ignited. The accident occurred September 9, 2015 on the Perdida Fire managed by the Bureau of Land Management northwest of Taos, New Mexico. The firefighter was one of seven igniters assigned to the fire which had a total of nine personnel.

The individual who was injured had been igniting with a drip torch while he carried an extra one attached to the pack on his back. The torch leaked fuel which caught fire.

From the recently released report about the incident:

…Igniter #1 saw that the victim’s line gear and back of his legs were on fire so he tried to put the fire out with dirt and by patting at the flame with his gloved hand. Igniter #1 told the victim to get on the ground and they both fell together. The victim got back up and ran while trying to get his glove off and then his pack, successfully. The victim then stumbled but regained his footing briefly before falling back to the ground. At this point, Igniters #1 and #3 converged and patted out the fire on the victim’s pants…<

The photos below are from the report.

damaged Nomex shirt

damaged Nomex pants

One of the issues pointed out in the report is a significant delay in requesting a medevac. About 40 minutes elapsed before medevac was requested, and that was for a ground ambulance even though the victim apparently had second and third degree burns. That request was quickly upgraded to transport by helicopter. The report concluded that according to the burn injury protocol a medevac should have been initiated upon the determination of second and third degree burns and the remoteness of the incident.

The medevac pilot was unable to communicate with the personnel on the ground because he could not program the frequency into the helicopter’s radio.

The lat/long was called in to dispatch from the incident scene 23 minutes after the helicopter was requested (about an hour after the accident occurred), and four minutes before it landed at the extrication point.

The report recommended that firefighters should avoid carrying extra drip torches on their packs during ignition operations.

We did not see anything in the report about how fire resistant clothing that has not been washed for an extended period of time may, or may not, cause the clothing to lose some of its resistance to fire. But it did say “PPE [personal protection equipment] should be kept clean and inspected often for damage and fuel contamination”.

drip torch back gear
File photo of igniters carrying drip torches attached to packs on their back. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

Jury finds power companies mostly liable for Las Conchas Fire

Start of the Las Conchas fire
The Las Conchas fire, taken at 1:44 p.m. June 26, 2011, approximately 45 minutes after it started. Photo: Michael Grady

A jury found two power companies were mostly liable for starting the 2011 Las Conchas Fire northwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico that burned 63 structures and 156,000 acres.

Two companies and the U.S. Forest Service share the responsibility for the fire that began when an aspen tree fell into a power line.

Below is an excerpt from an AP article:

Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative operated and maintained the power lines. Tri-State Generation and Transmission Inc. provides the cooperative with electricity.

Jurors in Sandoval County District Court found the cooperative was 75 percent negligent for the wildfire, Tri-State 20 percent and the U.S. Forest Service 5 percent.

The amount of monetary damages will be determined at a later trial.

Judge rules local agencies need approval before cutting trees on federal land

A judge has ruled that a New Mexico state law authorizing counties to cut and remove trees from federal land without approval of the federal government is unconstitutional. In a September 30 ruling, Chief U.S. District Judge Christina Armijo wrote that the law passed in 2001 by the legislature and a resolution approved by the Otero County Board of County Commissioners in 2011 violated the supremacy clause of the U.S. constitution. Armijo ruled Congress, not the state or the county, has sole authority to control federal lands.

The 2001 law stipulated that if a county declared a “disaster” as a result of the federal government’s land management actions or inactions, the county “may take such actions as are necessary to clear and thin undergrowth and to remove or log fire-damaged trees within the area of the disaster.” The tree cutting could be done after “consulting with the state forester and the regional United States forester”, but the county would not be bound by the opinion of the U.S. Forest Service.

Otero County did in fact declare a “disaster” in 2011 and developed a plan to cut and remove trees on 69,000 acres (108 square miles) of land on the Lincoln National Forest east of Alamogordo, New Mexico. They publicly announced their intentions and the U.S. Forest Service stated their opposition.

A confrontation appeared likely between federal employees and the county’s contractors attempting to cut trees on National Forest land. The possibility arose of conflicts between armed federal law enforcement officers and the county sheriff.

The Supervisor of the Lincoln National Forest, Robert Trujillo, was told by a Deputy Sheriff that Otero County Sheriff Benny House did not recognize Forest Service authority or jurisdiction, and that Sheriff House stated that he would arrest Forest Service law enforcement officers on kidnapping charges if they arrested anyone implementing Otero County’s project.

Now that the state law and the county resolution have been determined to violate federal law and the U.S. constitution, the conflict could be over. Unless — Otero County decides to cut the trees in spite of the Judge’s ruling, or they appeal the decision.