SFNF map shows the area if the Medio Fire which has now burned more than 1500 acres. Courtesy SFNF
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Fire officials with the Southwest Area Incident Management Team for the Medio Fire on the Rio en Medio area of the Espanola Ranger District of the Santa Fe National Forest joined some 280 participants Friday evening for a virtual community meeting. A second virtual meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday and may be viewed on the Santa Fe National Forest Facebook page.
The fire, which started Aug. 17, has burned some 1,530 acres of mixed conifer and has crossed the drainage over the Rio and Medio Trail. The cause of the fire is not yet known, however, investigators were headed to the point of origin Saturday morning. As of Saturday morning, the fire was only 5 percent contained and was moving southward because of winds from the north and steep slopes.
Sandy Hurlocker, District Ranger for the Espanola District of the Santa Fe National Forest said during the meeting that the safety of firefighters working on the fire is the priority. On Saturday afternoon, SFNF issued a closure order to protect public health and safety during the fire.
The closure order prohibits members of the public from entering the restricted area, including all Forest Service lands, roads and trails, within an area that is roughly defined by the Rio Nambe Trail #160 on the north, the Borrego Trail #150 and Forest Road 412 on the east, Forest Road 102 on the south and back up the forest boundary line on the west to meet the Rio Nambe Trail #160.
“Although SFNF trails further east of the Medio Fire, including the Winsor Trail, are not part of the closure order, fire behavior can be unpredictable and fire managers are asking the public to exercise caution and steer clear of all areas that could be impacted by the Medio Fire,” the closure order reads. “Federal, state and local officers, firefighters and members of an organized rescue team, and any others authorized by Forest Service permit are exempt from the closure order.”
Violation of fire closure orders is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations, imprisonment of not more than six months, or both.
Hurlocker told the virtual meeting participants that the Southwest Area Incident Management Team 4 which has taken over operations will do its best to protect the watershed in the area. Incident Manager Carl Schwope noted the challenging conditions at the fire including the steep terrain and the severe drought conditions in the area. He said air resources are hard to find right now due to the number of fires currently burning in the southwest. Schwope said the team is coming up with a plan that is a little different. He said one way to protect the watershed is to keep the acreage of the fire as small as possible. He noted that it is not typical to have a fire of this severity in northern New Mexico in August.
Temperatures in the area of the fire are some 3-6 degrees higher than usual – in the low to mid 80s even at above 8,000. Showers and thunderstorms were expected again Saturday but not much rain.
Buck Wickham, Section Chief of the Southwest Area team noted that the fire got active Friday afternoon making for extremely challenging conditions for firefighters because steep terrain which has few escape routes. He said smoke would have a big impact in the area and that a smoke monitor was being brought in Saturday.
Residents along the Pacheco Canyon Road have been notified to be prepared for potential evacuation if the fire spreads west.
The next virtual community meeting will be held tonight at 6:00 pm on the Santa Fe National Forest’s Facebook page. Online Facebook questions will be monitored during the meeting or can be emailed in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org. A recording will be posted immediately following the live meeting.