SANTA FE ― After assessing the positive outcome of the prescribed burn in the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed, fire managers on the Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) announced that resource objectives for 2016 have been met and there will be no more ignitions in the Watershed this year.
Fire crews used hand and aerial ignitions Oct. 12 and Oct. 13 to burn approximately 75 percent of the 2,435-acre planning area. Over the following week, low-intensity fire continued to burn within the perimeter of the planning area and completed the remaining 25% of the planned block.
“Protecting the Santa Fe Watershed from catastrophic wildfire is a high priority for the City of Santa Fe on behalf of its residents who depend on that resource for much of the water that comes out of their taps,” SFNF Forest Supervisor Maria T. Garcia said. “The Forest Service is proud to be part of this collaborative effort, and we join our partners in thanking the public for their understanding and support.”
After assessing air quality early on Oct. 14, the SFNF in consultation with the New Mexico Environment Department and the Department of Health suspended ignitions in the Watershed in order to limit the severity of smoke impacts on air quality. Although ignitions stopped, the fire continued to burn on the ground, including overnight when conditions typically limit fire and smoke production. As a result, smoke impacted air quality in some areas of the city during the early morning on both Oct. 15 and 16, lifting by mid-morning.
“We know the smoke is difficult for many people, and we work closely with our partner agencies at the city and the state to maintain acceptable air quality,” Garcia said. “When conditions like weather and wind change, we respond as quickly as we can to mitigate the impact on residents.”
Historically, low-intensity wildfires burned through ponderosa pine forests like the Watershed every seven to 15 years as part of a natural cycle that removed leaf litter, eradicated disease and thinned the understory, making room for new growth. Prescribed fires are one of the most effective tools available to resource managers for restoring fire-adapted ecosystems like the SFNF by applying low-intensity fire to the landscape under specific conditions within predetermined boundaries.
The Santa Fe Watershed prescribed burn was specifically designed to improve and protect the Santa Fe Watershed, which provides 40% of the water for the City of Santa Fe, by removing dead forest fuels and reducing the risk of high-intensity wildfire. Prescribed fires are managed with firefighter and public safety as the first priority.