South Fork Fire evacuates Ruidoso

Emergency officials ordered residents of Ruidoso  to evacuate Monday, and to do it immediately, ahead of a fast-moving wildfire in southern New Mexico.

“GO NOW: Do not attempt to gather belongings or protect your home. Evacuate immediately.” Residents of the village of Ruidoso got this message about 7 p.m. from local officials if they were online. CBS News reported that the Public Service Company of New Mexico shut off power to about 2000 customers in the town — at the request of fire managers — when the fire burned to nearly 1300 acres.

KRQE-TV reported that hot ash was falling in nearby community of Alto.

By Tuesday officials said the fire was over 13,900 acres and was zero percent contained. The fire’s threatening multiple structures, officials said, and numerous buildings had been lost. Highways are closed and traffic’s being re-routed to Roswell, where hospitals were trying to admit as many patients as possible as they were moved from the hospital in Ruidoso.

The South Fork Fire started Monday on the Mescalero Apache Reservation, where President Thora Walsh Padilla declared a state of emergency. It’s burning on tribal land and USFS land around Ruidoso.

Mescalero Apache Tribe

A second fire, the 4880-acre Salt Fire, also was burning with zero containment on the reservation southwest of Ruidoso. Officials have closed Highway 70 from Botella Road to Highway 244 and residents east of Botella Road are evacuating.

Residents at Chatto Ridge are on “ready” status and Apache Summit is being evacuated. The Tribe is receiving reports of multiple additional fires on the Reservation. An evacuation center at Inn of the Mountain Gods Convention Center is available for residents — tribal members or not — at the Mescalero Community Center Gymnasium, and livestock can be held at the Mescalero Rodeo Grounds. Call (575)973-1394 if you need help with hauling your livestock.

::: BY THE WAY, legend has it that the Mescalero Red Hats, alongBaby Smokey with the Zuni and Santo Domingo fire crews, were the ones who discovered a bear cub with burnt paws in 1950 on the Capitan Gap Fire. That bear would go on to become Smokey Bear, the internationally recognized symbol of the nation’s fire prevention efforts.

Pamela L Bonner photo
Pamela L Bonner photo

 

Post Fire over 15,000 acres

 

A fire in Los Angeles County that evacuated hundreds of people from a state park has burned over 15,000 acres since it started Sunday. By Monday evening Cal Fire was reporting the fire at 15,611 acres with 20 percent containment.

Tuesday update: 24 percent at 15,600 acres. 

CNN reported the fire at 8 percent containment Monday morning, with more than 1,000 firefighters assigned — including 34 crews, 7 helicopters, and 114 engines. Numerous airtankers are working the fire as windy conditions allow.

 

LA County Fire Department (LACoFD) Section Chief Kenichi Ballew-Haskett said Monday morning they’re notifying residents there may be mandatory evacuation orders pending.

“We’re getting people on notice that if we have to issue a mandatory evacuation order that they need to leave,” Ballew-Haskett said, advising residents to have their bags packed, a full tank of gas, and cell phones ready. “Once the sheriffs come by or law enforcement asks you to leave, it means the danger is imminent.”

Post Fire map

An Associated Press report said the fire forced the evacuation of at least 1,200 campers, off-roaders, and hikers from the Hungry Valley recreation area on Saturday, but Ben Nicholls, division chief with Cal Fire, said fire activity subsided overnight. “Forecasted winds are supposed to be less than we experienced yesterday, which should allow the resources assigned for this operational period to build and strengthen the control lines that were put in place yesterday,” he said.

Post Fire map

USAtoday reported that firefighters battled wildfires across northern and central California overnight. The Post Fire is south of Gorman, about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles; it started Saturday around 2 p.m. and, pushed by strong wind gusts, spread south along Interstate 5. LACoFD said the fire had damaged two commercial properties by Saturday evening. The fire burned an auto repair shop, damaged another building, and threatened other structures to the south and west of I-5, according to the LA Times.

Evacuation orders are in effect west of I-5 between Pyramid Lake and Gorman, and warnings are in place for areas south of Pyramid Lake between Old Ridge Route and the Los Angeles County line. The National Weather Service warned Sunday of wind gusts of 60 to 70 mph and a red flag warning was issued for the I-5 corridor in Los Angeles County and the Ventura County mountains until 5 p.m. Monday.

Soaring Himalayan wildfires don’t have only climate change to blame

Nepal has already seen 5,000 wildfires in 2024, the second-most wildfires recorded in a single year since record-keeping began in 2002. The fires have killed more than 100 people and have for days engulfed Kathmandu in hazardous wildfire smog.

“There is no respite from fires — both forest fires and house fires — continue to wreak havoc across the country in recent days,” the Kathmandu Post reported in April. “Massive fires have been raging across hectares of forest lands in more than a dozen places.”

Smoke from fires in Nepal -- NASA photo
A satellite fire map by NASA shows fire hotspots dotted across the bottom of the Himalayas, with a few creeping up the mountains. Image acquired by one of the Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellites on March 28, showing the region near Kathmandu engulfed in smoke.

The newfound prevalence of wildfires in the country has spiked researchers’ interest. A study published in the Climate Change scientific journal in 2023 analyzed the aftermath of 2021, Nepal’s worst wildfire year on record with 6,300 wildfires.

“In spring 2021, Nepal underwent a record wildfire season in which active fires were detected at a rate 10 times greater than the 2002–2020 average,” the study reported. “Prior to these major wildfire events, the country experienced a prolonged precipitation deficit and extreme drought during the post-monsoon period.”

Researchers concluded that both climate variability and climate change-induced severe drought played a factor in the country’s explosive wildfire growth. However, an environmental scientist stationed in Kathmandu recently told the Nature scientific journal that the study didn’t tell the full story.

Uttam Babu Shrestha, stationed at Kathmandu’s Global Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies, told Nature a large cause of increasing wildfires is the deterioration of Nepal’s relationship with its forests. A 1979 World Bank report warned that the nation was nearing an “ecological disaster” as a result of the country’s widespread deforestation and heavy reliance on agriculture. Nepal’s government listened and decentralized the management of its forests, resulting in the country’s forest cover nearly doubling in three decades. The abolition of the country’s monarchy and transition to a federal system, however, left forest management by the wayside.

“But this new political atmosphere didn’t prioritize the management of community forests like before,” Shrestha said. “With no clear benefits coming out of forests, the locals don’t feel the same ownership.”

A proposal to lessen both wildfire severity and forest management inaction was proposed by the lead researcher of the 2023 study. Binod Pokhrel, a climate scientist at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, found that Nepal’s 282 weather stations could work together to inform community members.

“By using weather station data, we could precisely forecast drought index up to a local ward level,” Pokhrel told Nature. “The lack of management of increasing forest cover can easily lead to another disaster.”

Pokhrel proposed that a smartphone-based fire forecast would reduce the chance of fires getting out of control — and save lives. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development uses a similar idea to update its wildfire-monitoring webpage, but Pokhrel told Nature that the Nepalese government must be involved to safeguard against future disastrous wildfires.

Apple Valley, California is serious about fireworks

About 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles in southern California, the Apple Valley Fire Protection District is educating residents about illegal fireworks, fire danger, and the need for defensible space around structures.
Apple Valley, California
Apple Valley, California

Fire Chief Buddy Peratt said the fuel load of dry vegetation this year increases the risk  of wildland fires, particularly those started by fireworks.

In Apple Valley all fireworks are illegal

“It’s important that people understand that all fireworks, including those classified as ‘safe and sane,’ are illegal in Apple Valley,” Fire Inspector Jennifer Alexy told the Victorville Daily Press.

Apple Valley Fire

She said information about illegal fireworks is important for all residents, especially those who’ve recently moved to Apple Valley. “Sometimes people move here from down the hill or other areas, and they don’t realize that fireworks are illegal,” Alexy said. “They start using fireworks, unaware of the potential danger.”

How citations are issued:  The Apple Valley Fire Protection District uses a “contactless citation process” in which citations are delivered by district personnel directly to the offender in person or by mail. An administrative  citation is $1,000. If a fire official has proof of a renter’s possession or use of fireworks, the district can also cite the property owner.

“We’ll gather the information and send the owner a citation via certified mail,” said Alexy. “We’ll make sure owners are responsible for their tenants.”

Apple Valley fireworks reporting

QR code to report fireworks:  Apple Valley Fire uses a QR code to report the possession, sale, or use of fireworks in town. “If someone calls our office to report fireworks during the weekend,” says Alexy, “we may not get the message until Monday morning. The QR code allows us to get the information right away.”

Every year using fireworks causes numerous injuries, some severe, requiring emergency medical attention. Burns, eye injuries, and other medical traumas are common and often have long-lasting or permanent results.

Fireworks are literally explosively loud, panicking pets and many veterans, and can mean trauma for people with with sensory issues. The debris and chemicals left over from fireworks can harm the environment, pollute the air, and leave behind hazardous waste.

Mt. Rushmore photo © Bill Gabbert

Back in 2000 at least 10 fires were started on and around Mt. Rushmore during fireworks displays. Perchlorate, which is now in the water at the national park after numerous fireworks shows held there, has been linked to fetal and infant brain damage — 11 fireworks shows between 1998 and 2009 contaminated the water at the memorial. The fireworks explosions left perchlorate on the ground, and it worked its way into the water table. In 2016 a  USGS report showed that a maximum perchlorate concentration of 54 micrograms per liter was measured in stream samples at Mt. Rushmore between 2011 and 2015 — about 270 times higher than in samples collected from sites outside the memorial.

Wildfires: During those 11 shows at least 20 documented wildfires were ignited by fireworks in the middle of the wildfire season.

Garbage: The trash dropped by the exploding shells onto the National Monument and the forest can never be completely picked up. Left on the ground are unexploded shells, wadding, plastic, ash, pieces of the devices, and paper —  that can never be totally removed from the very steep, rocky, rugged terrain.

NOTE: Bill Gabbert, who founded this website and ran it for many years, was the fire management officer at the  Mt. Rushmore site during some of that time. 

Smoke temporarily covered nearly all U.S. lakes between 2019 and 2021

As wildfire activity and severity increase globally, so too does the pervasiveness of wildfire smoke.

Researchers in the U.S. are working to find out how growing amounts of wildfire smoke nationwide affect ecosystems including aquatic habitats. A recent study published in the Global Change Biology research journal found that even smoke impacts lake ecology.

“An incredible 98.9 percent of lakes experienced at least 10 smoke-days a year, with 89.6 percent of lakes receiving over 30 lake smoke-days, and lakes in some regions experiencing up to 4 months of cumulative smoke-days,” the study said.

lake smoke

The term “smoke-days” describes the number of days on which any portion of a lake’s boundary intersected with smoke as defined by NOAA’s hazard mapping system daily smoke product. The smoke-days concept has been used previously to demonstrate smoke exposure by ecoregion, but was used specifically for lakes for the first time in this study.

Smoke and ash from wildfires lower the solar radiation that enters lake habitats, affecting organisms in numerous ways from physiology to behavior, according to the research. Particles from the smoke deposited within lake ecosystems can also affect several biological and geological processes, including the availability and cycling of various nutrients.

Less than 0.01 percent of land in North America burned between 2019 and 2021, but the area covered in smoke was 75 percent of the continent’s total land. The year 2021 marked the largest number of high-density lake smoke-days and is the year with the largest portion of the country burned and largest area covered with smoke, while 2020 had the lowest number of high-density smoke-days and the smallest area burned and smallest area covered with smoke.

“Large knowledge gaps impede our ability to predict and manage the responses of lakes to smoke and ash,” the researchers concluded. “Measuring the extent and effects of smoke and ash deposition remains challenging. Larger-scale studies are necessary to disentangle the mediating effects of scale and watershed context on the responses of lakes to smoke and ash deposition.”

Read the entire study here.

BURN BOSS: Charge dismissed

The criminal case against Ricky Snodgrass resulting from a prescribed fire on the Malheur National Forest has ended, according to. a report by OPB, after the court dismissed the charge brought by the Grant County, Oregon District Attorney Jim Carpenter.

Todd McKinley

County Sheriff Todd McKinley arrested Snodgrass, the burn boss on the Starr 6 fire, in the midst of a dispute with adjacent landowners.

A Grant County grand jury back in February indicted Snodgrass, 41, on a misdemeanor charge of reckless burning. In part because Snodgrass and many of the firefighters he was supervising, on a federal agency operation on federal land, were federal employees, the case was moved from the rural Oregon town of John Day to federal court in Pendleton. Defense lawyers asked a judge to dismiss it and Carpenter did not oppose the motion. The judge in the case dismissed it this week.

Mr. Snodgrass was charged because the State — or more precisely, the local sheriff — took issue with the Forest Service’s decision to conduct the prescribed fire,” defense attorneys wrote last month in court documents. “But the State cannot charge Mr. Snodgrass with a crime simply because it disagrees with the Forest Service’s decision.”

The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution means that Snodgrass was  immune from prosecution.

Supremacy Clause

OPB reported that in February of 2024 front of the grand jury, McKinley testified that the arrest got “huge national exposure.”

“I don’t know if you guys want to know how many hundreds of phone calls I got over this,” McKinley testified. “Either I was a pariah, the enemy, or they’re trying to make me a hero out of it.”

👮🏼‍♂️   Seriously, McKinley, no one thinks you are a hero.


Statement issued by Grant County Sheriff Todd McKinley)

Regarding the recent dismissal in Federal Court of the arrest of the Burn Boss at the Starr 6 uncontrolled burn in Grant County Oregon on October 19th 2022, I have the following to say: 

The United States Federal Government chose to use the “Supremacy Clause” as their basis for the request of dismissal. 

My interpretation of the use of this clause is such, that the State Law was sufficient for the charges, and the only way to circumvent this was to appeal to the Federal Court. 

I am saddened that our own Government, which was established, “of the People, by the People, for the People”, would to not “do the right thing” and make the damaged party whole, for fear of assuming responsibility for their actions. 

The hope out of all of this, is in the future, that more care will be taken, guidelines followed, and the United States Forest Service will heed their own motto: “Caring for the Land and Serving People”. 

Todd McKinley 
Sheriff