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Monsoon season is a mixed blessing amid historic NM fires

Raychel Sanner
Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

After days of higher activity on the two largest wildfires in New Mexico history due to hot, dry weather, relief appears to be on the way as the monsoon season starts up. But rains on a burn scar can bring new trouble: flash floods.

While storms are forecast to begin Thursday afternoon, Incident Meteorologist on the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire Sam Webber says they're not likely to produce much if any rain that would benefit firefighting efforts.

"It’s really going to be hit or miss with things, but we do keep on increasing our chances as we head further into the week," he said at a fire weather briefing Thursday.

The heaviest downpour is expected west of the central mountain chain over the next few days, according to the National Weather Service, which should cover the Black Fire in the Gila National Forest, but may just miss the larger northeastern New Mexico blaze. Regardless, Webber said, the storms should help tame that wildfire too.

"We are going to see some at least moderation of fire weather conditions that would promote less active burning," he said.

Webber was quick to warn, however, that monsoon season doesn’t only bring good news for nearby communities.

"After the fire has burned over an area, and you get rain on it, comes the flood," he said. "You don’t have that water-absorbent layer on the surface anymore, so a 10th to a quarter of an inch in a really short amount of time is just all going to run off that face."

He encouraged residents downstream from a burn scar to monitor National Weather Service emergency alerts on their phone or NOAA Weather Radio.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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