Abandoned Campfires Frustrate Crews

SFNF crews discovered more than 45 still-burning campfires abandoned last weekend. Courtesy photo
Los Alamos Daily Post

Last weekend, fire prevention staff on the Santa Fe National Forest discovered more than 45 still-burning abandoned campfires … not including one last week on the Jemez Ranger District that grew into a 2-acre wildfire before three engine crews finally doused it.

Frustrated crews on patrol Saturday and Sunday came across 35 abandoned campfires on the Jemez District and another 10 on the Pecos/Las Vegas side of the forest. Fire and recreation staff working in the field also are seeing illegal campfire rings.

Most of the abandoned campfires – still the leading human cause of wildfire – are found at dispersed campsites on the Jemez and Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger Districts, both popular weekend destinations for campers. The upcoming Fourth of July holiday, with its expected surge in the number of visitors on the forest, has fire personnel on the SFNF worried. 

The Los Alamos Fire Department rates the fire danger level right now in Los Alamos and the surrounding area at “very high”. That means that fires start easily from all causes and immediately after ignition, spread rapidly and increase quickly in intensity. Fires burning in light fuels may quickly develop high intensity characteristics such as long-distance spotting and fire whirlwinds when they burn into heavier fuels. Spot fires are a constant danger and long-distance spotting is likely. Also, there is the danger that fires may become serious and their control difficult unless they are attacked successfully while small.

“I highly advocate completely extinguishing your campfire before leaving the area,” LAFD Wildland Division Chief Kelly Sterna said.

LAFD indicates that the County is not under Fire Restrictions/Red Flag conditions at this time so camp fires are allowed on private property and at the Camp May camping areas under the following conditions:

  • In an approved fire ring/burn container with the surrounding areas free of vegetation;
  • A water supply must be available (preferably a garden hose, or buckets of water;
  • The fire must be constantly attended/supervised by a responsible party able to extinguish the fire; and
  • No burning of yard waste (weeds, grass, leaves, slash, brush, garbage), only burning of fire wood for entertainment purposes/cooking is allowed.

LAFD reminds residents to continually be aware of wind conditions to avoid burdening neighbors with smoke and embers and to know that LAFD personnel have the right to stop any and all burning operations that pose a danger or a burden to the surrounding public.

Although Northern New Mexico has seen good precipitation through the winter and spring, conditions are drying on the SFNF, and fire managers point out that it only takes one abandoned campfire in the wrong place to put human lives, natural resources and property at risk. 

While the vast majority of forest visitors camp responsibly, the handful that do not put the forest and surrounding communities in harm’s way.