Amid what officials now designate as exceptional drought conditions, Santa Fe National Forest officials this week began implementing fire restrictions ahead of the Memorial Day weekend.
The stage one fire restrictions only apply to the westside of the forest, which includes the Jemez, Cuba and Coyote ranger districts, and part of Española’s. Julie Anne Overton, Public Affairs Officer for the Santa Fe National Forest says the eastside of the forest got enough moisture from recent storms to avoid the restrictions.
The goal is to reduce human-caused wildfires by limiting campfires to developed sites with fire pits built by the Forest Service. “If you’re planning to just find a nice site, pull over and put up your tent,” Overton said, “you cannot have a campfire.”
Over 77% of the state was under extreme and exceptional drought conditions the week of May 18, up from just 4% this time last year, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. These designations are the highest drought rankings available. Therefore, all fires pose a risk if not fully extinguished.
Overton says her team has already seen a rash of abandoned fires this year, one of which jumped the fire pit but luckily was quickly contained by firefighters. “We are actually coming upon blazing, still-flaming campfires that people just have walked away from,” she said. “Under these conditions, that’s terrifying.”
Overton says proper technique includes stirring at least five gallons of water into the embers with a shovel until it creates a consistency she described as “mud pie.” “And here’s the key,” she said. “Lower the back of your hand. When you no longer feel heat coming off it, then you’re good to go.”
If you see an abandoned campfire or smoke, Overton says to call 911.
She warns that tossing lit cigarette butts and dragging chains from a car can also spark a fire in these conditions.