Wildfires Continue To Burn In Gila National Forest

CATRON COUNTY, N.M. June 5, 2012 -- The Whitewater and Baldy Fire Complex has reached 260,000 acres and is still only 20 percent contained. The fires, ignited May 16, have produced excessive smoke in the Rio Grande Valley sporadically over the past two weeks.

If you are planning to visit the forest, closures and restrictions still are in effect in several areas; please go to the Gila National Forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/gila for current information or contact the Forest directly at 575-388-8201.

Firefighters on Monday ignited multiple portions of the fire boundary from the air. Crews were able to hold and mop-up without any complications. In the south and southwest areas of the fire lines, fire behavior was barely visible with the exception of some canyons with dense forest.  These pockets of increased fire activity and short duration smoke columns, were expected by fire managers.  Helicopters and firefighters were monitoring the behavior and ready to respond as needed. Fire mitigation efforts were completed around the cabins in Claremont yesterday. The fire line south of Mogollon from the Whitewater Canyon vicinity to Forest Road 159 was completed. More than 1,100 personnel are battling the blaze, including 13 hotshot crews and eight hand crews, using 60 engines, 28 water tenders and seven dozers.

The northern boundary chipping operation is now complete and remaining firefighters will continue to patrol and mop-up as needed.  On the eastern boundary of the fire, hotshot crews continued to explore and build line in the terrain between the Double Spring Ranch, Prior Canyon and the Miller fire.  The contingency line is now ready should weather change and make an extreme push eastward.

Today’s fire tactics will mimic yesterday’s efforts with continued patrol and mop-up operations.  Aerial ignition will continue as needed in the south and western portions of the fire.  Aerial ignitions are planned for the eastern boundary north of 2011 Miller fire.  Fire and smoke columns will be visible in during these operations.

A Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team is currently performing a thorough assessment of the Whitewater-Baldy Complex burn area. The BAER team is staffed by trained professionals including; hydrologists, soil scientists, engineers, biologists, silviculturists, range conservationists and archeologists.  This team will evaluate the burned area and prescribe treatments to protect the land quickly and effectively.

Multiple local and state emergency managers have come together to support locally driven community-based efforts and initiate mitigation measures for post fire flood damage.

Catron County Sheriff’s Office lifted the evacuation order to residents and business owners. On Wednesday, June 6, 2012, the community will be open to the public. Residents should be cautious when driving in the vicinity.

-- NMT --