Updates on four large wildfires in New Mexico

Updated at 5:28 p.m. MDT May 18, 2022

Red Flag Warning for the Calf Canyon / Hermits Peak Fire
Red Flag Warning for the Calf Canyon / Hermits Peak Fire, May 19-20, 2022. NWS.

The National Weather Service has taken the unusual step of issuing a Red Flag Warning one and two days in advance for the Calf Canyon / Hermits Peak Fire 21 miles east of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The prediction is for winds gusting from the west and southwest at more than 30 mph with single digit relative humidity. Similar conditions will exist at least on Thursday for the area of the Black and Bear Trap Fires in southwest New Mexico.

Updated 12:10 p.m. MDT May 18, 2022

Map Black Fire 914 p.m. MDT May 18, 2022
Map of the Black Fire. The bright red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:48 a.m. May 18. The red line is the perimeter at 9:14 p.m. May 17. The white line is the perimeter about 48 hours before.

On Wednesday the northern half of New Mexico is under a Red Flag Warning. Isolated dry thunderstorms are predicted for portions of New Mexico, Texas, and Colorado.

The Calf Canyon – Hermits Peak Fire 21 miles east of Santa Fe, NM was active on the west side Tuesday, but there was very little significant activity on the east side between Mora and Las Vegas.

The Cerro Pelado Fire 25 miles west of Santa Fe was relatively quiet Tuesday. There has been no major spread for several days and a satellite was only able to detect one large heat source early Wednesday morning.

Black Fire, May 16, 2022
Black Fire, May 16, 2022. IMT photo.

The Black Fire (see map above) 28 miles west-northwest of Truth or Consequences made another large run to the east Tuesday adding another 21,000 acres to bring the total up to 77,360. Fuel treatments and wildfires that have occurred over the last 20 years may slow any major spread to the north, west, and south, but the NIFC database shows no significant history of fire east of the incident.

Map Bear Trap Fire 943 p.m. MDT May 17, 2022
Map of the Bear Trap Fire. The bright red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:48 a.m. May 18. The red line is the perimeter at 9:43 p.m. May 17. The white line is the perimeter about 24 hours before.

Another fire in southwest New Mexico, the Bear Trap Fire, is 34 miles southwest of Socorro. It spread southwest on Tuesday and was mapped Tuesday night at 15,215 acres. The fire is surrounded by fuel treatments and prescribed natural fires on all sides except for the southwest — which is where the most of the spread has occurred during the last couple of days.

Bear Trap Fire
South side of the Bear Trap Fire, May 16. IMT photo.

5:10 p.m. MDT May 17, 2022

map Cerro Pelado and Calf Canyon - Hermits Peak Fires
Map showing the location of the Cerro Pelado and Calf Canyon – Hermits Peak Fires, the evening of May 16, 2022.

High temperatures and very low humidity on Tuesday kept most of the large wildfires in New Mexico very active.

Calf Canyon – Hermits Peak Fire

The Calf Canyon – Hermits Peak Fire 21 miles east of Santa Fe has become the largest fire in the recorded history of New Mexico. At 299,565 acres it has eclipsed the previous record set by the 297,845-acre Whitewater and Baldy Fires when they burned together in May of 2012 in Southwest New Mexico. On Tuesday it was again putting up a large smoke column while a 5 to 20 mph wind gusted out of of the northwest, west, and southwest at 25 mph. The humidity dropped to 10 percent in the afternoon.

Cerro Pelado Fire

On Monday most of the fire activity on the 45,605-acre Cerro Pelado Fire was on the northwest and southeast sides. On Tuesday the fire 25 miles west of Santa Fe was putting up much less smoke than the Calf Canyon – Hermits Peak Fire, judging from the Satellite photo below taken at 3:56 p.m.

satellite photo Smoke plumes from New Mexico fires
Smoke plumes from New Mexico fires at 3:56 p.m. MDT May 17, 2022. NOAA.

Black Fire

On Monday the Black Fire 30 miles west-northwest of Truth or Consequences made a significant run to the east from Forest Road 150 and crossed the Black Range Crest at Diamond Peak. On the west side of FR 150, crews are having success constructing fireline. The fire remains north of Black Canyon. It was very active Tuesday, pushed by a 10 mph wind gusting out of the southwest at 20 to 24 mph while the relative humidity was 5 percent. It has burned 56,132 acres since it was reported May 13 at 9 p.m.

map black fire new mexico
Map showing the location of the Black Fire, the evening of May 16, 2022.

Bear Trap Fire

Since it started May 1 the Bear Trap Fire has burned 15,215 acres 34 miles southwest of Socorro. It is nine miles south of the Very Large Array radio astronomy observatory.

Black Fire May 16, 2022
Black Fire May 16, 2022. Jeff Zimmerman.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

34 thoughts on “Updates on four large wildfires in New Mexico”

  1. With environs conditions being ripe for worsening conflagrations, and c0nventional risks, dangers and limits becoming more and more apparent; total reliance upon the usual when becoming and being still increasingly overwhelmed; when more advanced providences are still near to conditionally assist in achieving more rapid results; remains a baffing modern day mysterious tragedy.

  2. Breaking news.

    All NM National Forest System Lands going into Stage 3 restrictions. All National Forests in NM will be closed.

  3. Am I the only one that has seen this for the past 10 years? The FS is closing the forest in the winter for 5 months in NM. Then they close it for excuses they make up and they close it for 3 more months in the spring. That is 8 months now. This is the Carson and the SF forests. What do they actually do, have meetings in an air conditioning brand new building. What? Yes, no road, no trail, no campground, no rec areas, no wood harvesting, no seeing it. How crazy is that. It is obvious to me that they are beyond their old capacities that they cannot even manage their territory. Soon the so called public lands will be shut down for the public all year round. How messed up is that. Oh yeah, not a single forest service law dog to be seen in yeah, probably 10 years.

  4. Believe me, most NF’s would LOVE nothing more than to be closed to the public for good. The public is a burden to their office folks.

    Rumor has it the Arapahoe and Pike forests west of Denver are considering doing the same. I believe it’s because of inept leadership that is pressurized with hubris, the FS in Colorado has completely lost It’s way. It’s basically a bunch of ologists and admin people telling the firefighters how to do their jobs. You cannot manage a Forest with a cell phone, a spreadsheet and Zoom calls. SOMEONE has to get their hands dirty!

  5. So how do we keep THE PUBLIC from burning down THEIR forests? It only takes one idiot or arsonist at a time! Collectively don’t we all carry some responsibility for each human-caused fire if agencies don’t place restrictions or closures to reduce the possibility? Just because you can be trusted to go on in what about the next person in line? Hell if I know! Go ahead and whine but deal with it because it’s our National Forest, not just yours.

  6. LR
    “Deal with it” seems par for the course with FS folks these days, like I said, hubris.

    The fact is, there are 9.4 million acres of Nat Forest in NM which incorporates 5 Forests. That is roughly 58,125 miles of perimeter so, how do you enforce this closure? Seriously? CBP, which has FAR more LE resources than FS cannot even keep the 1925 mile southern border from being breached, Ha!

    The FS in general has nearly no LE whatsoever and R3 to an even lesser extent. Once they “close” the Forests it becomes a LE function soooooo, how do you secure and hold a 58k mile perimeter with no LE???? You can’t so calling it “closed” is really just a gesture, an email, a press release, a worthless and unenforceable Forest Order on a piece of paper.

    Besides, in the case of Hermits/Calf it wasn’t even Forest users that set the place on fire…it was the FS itself!!! LOL. Maybe they should close it to prevent themselves from doing any more damage since, clearly, they aren’t even responsible enough to enter the very lands they are tasked with “managing”.

  7. Well said !
    They haven’t been during cause investigation for several years now on either these forests other than saying “human” caused, ignoring possible arsons.

  8. That is to prevent human caused fires. so many careless and ignorant people. I am saddened by closures, but glad for the added protection for the forest.

  9. No ! It’s because of their total lack of boots on the ground. Easier and pays more at Burger King.
    So it’s far easier to close the entire Forest than to do better management, take care of employees, hire at good rate of pay, good housing etc etc etc.

    THE USFS IS A FAILED AGENCY PEOPLE!!!!!! And they are burning up OUR forests. We are the land owners and they are just the tenant, time to get NEW tenants!!!!!

  10. When each law dog (used to be one) has 3 million acres to patrol, how often do you think you’re going to see one? Not to mention the mandatory in-services, court, paperwork and meetings. How much patrol time do you think that eats up?
    As far as the closures go, how else would you handle the situation? If it’s closed you’ll complain, if it’s open you’ll complain…or is logging your answer, lol.

  11. Best reply yet …. this is ALL coming down to taking care of our own back yards…. no more passing the buck to the system to ‘take care of it’ as if nature isnt a part of who we are and out communities.

  12. As of 3:00 p.m. EDT, Accuweather Radar is picking up some pop-ups in North Central New Mexico. I have no idea where that moisture came from. There are more echos in Colorado as well. This could be a mixed blessing. A little moisture could help but there could also be dry lightning and gusty winds.

  13. Seems to me that we have come close the last couple of years in truly breaking the fed FF suppression system, this may be the year it implodes, how very sad….the NM fires will be sucking up resources until the Monsoons begin sometime in July

    All we need now is for 2 more geo areas to crank up, then again it may not happen at all, R-3 may be the big show for the year, odds are against it….

    R-5 IHC’s will be coming on line soon and making the annual pilgrimage to R-3, a most excellent proving ground to work out the kinks and build cohesion, not much to like about R-3, but at least there is that……lol….You all keep a close eye on your top knot, to early in the season for slip knots….Peace…..

  14. You mean control burns getting out of hand easy fix for the FS fuel reduction programs.

  15. I think everyone has forgotten one little fact, seems that everyone views these lands as “theirs”, meaning some sort of possession unto themselves or their “own”, their family, a given right, let’s let reality speak and let the gravity of this statement set in, —— “ we did not inherit these lands from our forefathers, we are merely borrowing them from our children “, don’t blame the folks that we – YOU and I call, when things go, not as planned, primarily due to not being prepared on our part, nor can we blame Mother-nature for her cleansing process, less we forget that these event are , “mostly” natural and that they have, currently and will happen again, rather let’s, as a sort of team, tend to the land, just bring more and stability and beauty, not destruction, let’s, unless there is a true and valid fact in action, not lay blame but support this effort, no Monday morning quarterbacks, that’s way too easy, hahahah Like mama always said, if ya can’t help, shut up!!!!

  16. Here in Southern Arizona we have recently begun to get Fire Weather Warnings 2 &3 days in advance. Used to be one day, so when I saw the first warning I thought it would be the next day but then caught in the verbage that it was two days out. Seems to be a new trend in the West.

  17. Christine
    Ya think? Maybe if fire practioners viewed the weather 2-3 days out like professional pilots….maybe this 7% RH mayhem could have been accomplished in less windy, and increased moisture days.
    I mean, after all, some or most of these folks are already surfing at their desks.

    Here’s a couple of sites that MAYBE they’d pay attention to..
    awc.gov and spc.gov

    Sure can do some planning that way

  18. Christine,

    Speaking of “Southern Arizona”, does the U.S. Forest Service have a policy of just letting fires burn in designated wilderness areas? I have a vague memory that I saw or read that somewhere but am not sure about this.

    The catastrophic Bighorn Fire was started by lightning in a designated wilderness area in the Santa Catalina foothills in a low desert environment. My understanding of the situation (please correct me if I’m wrong) was that it was just allowed to burn. It was started by natural causes in a designated wilderness area so according to Forest Service policy as I understand it, that is was they were supposed to do.

    It was a small grass fire that at first posed little threat and it burned for three days when a powerful but dry cold front entered the state. Hot, dry, southwest winds picked up with a vengeance and this thing absolutely exploded. By the time all was over and done it was one of the largest conflagrations in the State’s history.

    Although I now live in Indiana, I was on Mount Lemmon back in March. I saw many dead saguaros that got torched. Some of them might possibly recover but not all of them. The pine forest at the higher elevations didn’t appear to have suffered as much as I was afraid of. Summerhaven was nearly destroyed for the second time in 17 years. But miracle of miracles that thankfully did not happed.

    It’s my feeling (again correct me if I’m wrong) is that if they’d jumped on this thing on the first couple of days, they could’ve contained the fire and completely avoided this disaster.

    Fred M. Cain

  19. I was on the Bighorn and worked to protect Summerhaven with a task force of engines and hotshot crews. Beautiful area up there. I can’t speak to the early days of the fire and objectives then but by the time we were there we certainly had the goal of putting the fire out and creating “black line” on the map. And as far as I know there were no residences destroyed during that time.

  20. “And as far as I know there were no residences destroyed during that time.”

    Yeah, Like I say, it was indeed a miracle. The beautiful mixed conifer forest in Bear Wallow was also spared.

    I corresponded with a woman whose husband is a retired forest ranger who was nevertheless up there helping out. She said that her husband told her that as the fire approached Summerhaven and Bear Wallow it just suddenly “stopped”. He told her that he had NEVER seen anything like that happen before. Did you witness that too? If true, that would be a kind of miracle, don’t you think?

    One possibility is that the dry storms that started the fire to begin with might have produced some heavy albeit spotty rain on some parts of the mountain but that’s just my guess.

    Fred M. Cain

  21. Same thing on the Superior National Forest/Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota. Most of the large fires, Pagami Fire, East Zone Complex, Cavity Fire, and others were left to be monitored despite warnings or request to check the fires by ATGS personnel who were actioning other fires nearby, and of course eventually the right weather materialized and they turned into multi-million dollar fires complete with evacuations and large aerial ops. Oh and the Foss Lake fire which was an escaped prescribed burn lit within a mile of numerous lake homes. A burn with no silvacultural benefits or need for “ fuel reduction” goals and burned out of prescription. Policies need to be amended.

  22. Correct Sir! There are a lot of good people working for an agency that management has rendered incompetent with bad policy and a paralyzed bureaucracy. And following this excellent website I also realize how bad the morale is due to crappy personnel management. I am starting to believe that the Forest Service should be relieved of their Fire responsibilities (over time reconfigured into a National Fire Agency) and let them concentrate on Forest Management that includes sustainable logging as it seems Region 8 is about the only region that is actually managing the forest for the products our Nation needs.

  23. all you physically fit commentators should be volunteer fire fighters !

  24. I saw the start of the Bighorn from my back yard the night it started. I believe they had at least one helicopter on it the next day and it was “being monitored” by firefighters as it was in steep difficult terrain. Over the next 24-48hr they started with tankers and more helicopters. It started somewhere around 3500ft in mostly grass, desert type growth. I don’t know if guys on the ground could have done anything early or not. I’m not a firefighter but I have hiked the area where it started and it’s steep, rocky and difficult to get around in. I think they assumed it would burn itself out. There was a similar fire on the next ridge over the prior year or two years before also started by lightening which burnt itself out after a few days. I believe it was called the Buster fire. Maybe they were expecting more of the same…

  25. All fireworks should be banned, made illegal and impossible to buy by consumers. They are dangerous, deadly and unnecessary to celebrate anything at all. Anyone playing with fireworks in forested areas is simply an arsonist.

  26. Op ed to Chief Moore on the New Mexico Fires:

    Forest Service Chief Randy Moore told us he would “pause” prescribed burning for 90 days pending a review of policies and practices that resulted in the Hermit’s Peak and Calf Canyon wildfires. The thing is, he had his fingers crossed, and not how you’d expect.

    In 2009, the Forest Service unilaterally decided to allow some wildfires to burn to thin overgrown forests and to “reintroduce fire to fire-depleted ecosystems.” Most of New Mexico’s federal and private forests are woefully overgrown. Trees grow “dog hair thick,” so close together and so dense they remind foresters of the hair on a dog’s back.

    The dog hair thickets of pine trees, but other species including junipers, have taken over New Mexico’s beautiful high country in ways we could not imagine when I first roamed the Pecos and Gila wildernesses with my dad, the forest ranger, 60 years ago. In those days, our forests were open stands of stately pines with an understory of grass and forage for wildlife.

    Chief Moore thinks something must be done. He’s right. The way he’s going about “doing something” is unwise, unfair, and probably illegal. He is using the big summer wildfires to field thousands of firefighters and millions of dollars in equipment and support to purposefully burn vast stretches of the Western States, and he doesn’t have to answer to anyone to do it.

    The Hermit’s Peak Calf Canyon Fires and the Black Fire are not the biggest in New Mexico history because of either fuel or climate change. Yes, those factors matter. The Chief is using massive “firing operations,” fire drones and drip torches to light fires, lots of fires, over 130,000 acres in one firing operation now in progress near Kingston and Mimbres, NM. Under the guise of “risk management,” firefighters are falling back to the next State highways and lake shores and burning everything between them and the distant wildfire, often 10 miles or more away from the chosen “control line.” “We’ll let it burn to us,” is the new talking point.

    He calls it a “confine and contain” or “contain and control” strategy. He’s saying it’s safer for firefighters and “other values at risk.” It’s just not true. Three firefighters were hospitalized on Hermit’s Peak after being hit by a water drop. Hundreds of homes were burned, and thousands evacuated creating spikes in individual health problems among evacuees and firefighters. The strain and drain on equipment and people are epic. The Chief complains about not having enough firefighters, and then he uses them up on giant summer burn projects. Suicide rates and divorces among firefighters are at all new highs.

    Congress allocates money to the Forest Service for “emergency fire suppression,” you know, get in there and put the fire out, as they did for 100 years. It’s a misappropriation of those funds to use them to tend giant purpose-set wildfires. The costs of keeping fire teams in the field on the Gila and Santa Fe on these fires are astonishing, not for emergency fire suppression, but for fires managed for “contain and control,” loose herding, and lighting fires on purpose. They are deferring actual fire suppression to meet other objectives.

    Governor Lujan Grisham, a New Mexico legislator, a commissioner in an affected county, a well-known businessman, and many others have pressed the Forest Service to stop lighting fires in New Mexico and fight them. The Agency told them burning conditions are perfect; low flame heights, not radical behavior, it’s doing a lot of good, and ranchers love it. If all that is true, why not put it out before the next huge heatwave and wind event?

    Fire is important and we should use it wisely. But we need to bring the public along with the whole notion of managed fire. Enact laws that authorize the Forest Service to pay for the damages these fires cause. Build informed consent of those affected by this one-way policy that always surprises every American who must confront it as their homes burn.

    Chief Moore, you had your fingers crossed. You did not “pause prescribed fire.” You merely cloaked your huge managed wildfires as life-threatening emergencies. Who can argue with that?

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