Firefighters To Face High Winds, Red Flag Warnings At Cerro Pelado Fire This Weekend, County Announces Resources

Los Alamos Fire Department Wildland Division Chief Kelly Sterna answers questions for a local resident Friday evening at the Cerro Pelado Fire community briefing at Griffith Gym. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

Cerro Pelado Fire officials from multiple federal, state and local agencies chat prior to Friday’s community briefing. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

Valles Caldera National Preserve Supt. Jorge Silva-Banuelos, left, Los Alamos Fire Department Wildland Chief Kelly Sterna and Rich Harvey, Incident Manager for the Great Basin Team #1, chat following Friday’s community briefing. Photo by Maire O’Neill/


Members of the community attending Friday evening’s Cerro Pelado Fire update briefing in-person at Griffith Gym and virtually via Zoom, hear from incident meteorologist Scott Stearns that they can expect several days of critical fire weather throughout the area and throughout the state,

Stearns said Saturday morning will start with a red flag warning from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Another red flag warning has been issued for 10 a.m. Sunday to 10 p.m. and then on Monday there is a fire weather watch from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“We have a pretty large disturbance that’s going to kind of park off to the west of us in the Utah area roughly speaking and Northern Arizona and that disturbance doesn’t move a whole lot over the next couple of days. Tuesday we are looking at a little bit of a reduction in those winds which is something that wasn’t on the table even yesterday,” he said.

Stearns believes Saturday will see west winds of 20 mph with gusts up to 40 mph.

“Sunday is a big day. We’re looking generally at west southwest winds with a little bit of a southerly component in there and we’re looking at sustained winds of 30 mph with gusts up to about 50 mph. That’s the biggest day of concern from my perspective in the weather department,” he said. “On Monday, we’re likely to have critical conditions again but we are going to see similar conditions to Saturday through Monday.”

Tuesday is looking like a little bit of a down day, not perfect, with some gusty conditions out there, Stearns said, but moving into Wednesday and Thursday another disturbance moves across the southwest and that will bring another round of gusty winds across much of the area, Stearns said.

‘In addition there are really low relative humidity ranges both during the daytime as well as during the overnight hours. That’s the thing that’s really concerning with this, is we’re not only looking at these kinds of winds in the daytime but we’re looking at elevated winds overnight.

The maximum relative humidity levels overnight will be around 30 percent. This means that the burn period is slightly longer,” Stearns said.

Meanwhile, this weekend the Southern Area Red Incident Management Team is transitioning out of the area and the Great Basin Team 1 National Incident Management team has moved in.

Robert Burnside, fire behavior analyst with Great Basin Team 1 said most of the area of the Cerro Pelado Fire burned 11 years ago during the Las Conchas Fire so the team is dealing with a big fire scar out there.

Generally fire scars are good for firefighters, Burnside said.

“They generally stop fires but with this fire the grass has come back up and a lot of timber stands that were left standing have fallen so a lot of that is creating a fuel model which is actually burning well out there,” he said.

Burnside said it’s his job to look at the fire and see how it’s going to burn as things progress.

“I just got here yesterday but I spent 24 hours figuring out what’s going on and I talked to a lot of people out here who have watched what’s happened during the last couple of weeks and that has helped me put it together,” he said.

Burnside expects that as the direction of the wind is the direction of the fire, with the westerly push expected over the next three days, the fire will make some pretty good progress. He said he expects to see some pretty good runs but it will slow down when it gets into the canyons.

 “I wish I had great news that there was no threat whatsoever; honest truth is there are threats to this country out there that our folks are working hard to address,” he said.

Jeff Surber, Operations Section Chief for the Great Basin team said planning officer for the team said they are working off Road 280 and hoping they can hold the fire there. He discussed the management action points that are in place and how actions are planned if the fire crosses those predetermined points.

 “We plan for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.

Los Alamos County Emergency Manager Beverley Simpson played a big part in Friday night’s meeting where she discussed the County’s current “ready” status.

“If the fire crosses Road 289 and is deemed out of control, that is when Los Alamos County will move into ‘set’ in the ‘ready, set, go’ procedure, she said, stressing that the County is still in the ‘ready’ phase.

Simpson outlines resources that are not available and directed people to the County website and the County Customer Care Center at (505) 662-8333. Among the resources she named were: dry RV parking at Buffalo Thunder Resort with water and dumping facilities at Pojoaque Roadrunner; and spaces for animals at the Rio Arriba County Rural Events Center in Abiquiu. Arrangements are underway for evacuation centers where people can stay – initially at in Glorieta with Pojoaque Valley Schools being considered as a back-up location and the County is working to get the Geneva Chavez Center in Santa Fe approved by the Red Cross as a back-up site.

Many people asked about the likelihood that White Rock will be evacuated and while that is not anticipated at this time, Simpson noted that White Rock should also be in “ready” status because the situation could change depending on the behavior of the fire.

Los Alamos Fire Department Wildland Division Chief Kelly Sterna said LAFD has been recommissioning apparatus that had been taken out of service.

“We don’t have any change in the response capability in town that we have on a normal daily basis here. We are in daily collaboration with the incident management team, LANL fire management and the Los Alamos County leadership team,” he said. Sterna pointed the community to information available on the County website and the Cerro Pelado Fire page.

Simpson also announced that for people who don’t use a smartphone, AM1610 is being updated to have the fire messages on there.

“The County has been working diligently for the past couple of weeks getting things in order in case we have to evacuate. I want to stress that we are not evacuating at this time. I know there have been a lot of rumors out there so we wanted to squelch those so that we can continue to work on this without people getting anxious or worried. We will be utilizing AM1610. CodeRed and the media to get the information out,” she said.

Simpson said if the fire crosses Road 289, a management action point will kick in that will move the County into the “set” phase and that will be extensively advertised. She said hopefully the winds will not be as bad as predicted like the last few days which had turned out well.

“I just want to remind everyone to please get ready. That’s what this ‘ready’ phase is; we’ve been in it for a few days and hopefully people have their things in order to be able to evacuate if we have to,” Simpson said.

To view videos of community briefings, request assistance with animals, request transportation assistance, shelter and RV parking information, as well as Cerro Pelado Fire questions and resources, go to:

Among those representing multiple agencies at Friday’s community briefing were, from left, Jeff Surber, Operations Section Chief for Great Basin Team #1, Valles Caldera National Preserve Supt. Jorge Silva-Banuelos, Jeremy Marshall, Administrator for the Santa Fe National Forest, Fire Behavior Analyst Robert Burnside and Incident Meteorologist Scott Stearns. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

Los Alamos County Emergency Manager Beverley Simpson and County Manager Steven Lynne at Friday’s Cerro Pelado Fire community meeting. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

Members of the County’s communications team, from left, Visual Information Specialist Leslie Bucklin, Department of Public Utilities Public Relations Manager Cathy D’Anna and County Public Information Officer Julie Williams-Hill at Friday’s community meeting. The team has been actively developing and disseminating information and resources related to the Cerro Pelado Fire since its outbreak. Photo by Maire O’Neill/

Fire officials discuss up-to-date maps of the Cerro Pelado Fire with local residents Friday. Photo by Maire O’Neill/