New fires spark in New Mexico as longer fire season stretches on

Increased fire danger present in the northern part of the state as winds whip up

By: - August 8, 2023 4:30 am

An undated photo of the smoke column of the Black Feather Fire viewed from the air above Santa Fe National Forest. (Courtesy U.S. Forest Service)

High record-breaking temperatures coupled with a diminished monsoon season means that New Mexico’s fire season will extend further into August, forecasters expect.

This comes as the Black Feather Fire sparked in the Santa Fe National Forest Saturday afternoon, started by a lightning strike, and grew to 2,000 acres over the weekend.

Two remote, small communities in Rio Arriba County were put on notice to potentially evacuate Monday.

People living in Mesa Poleo and Mesa Pinabetal will need to evacuate if the fire jumps across Forest Road 93 to the northeast, said Major Lorenzo Aguilar, with Rio Arriba Sheriff’s Office, in a phone call with Source NM.

Rio Arriba county has an evacuation site at the Coyote Senior Center, about a 20-minute drive east of the communities.

Rio Arriba sheriff deputies went door to door on Sunday to warn residents.

“The majority of residents are older, and they don’t have phone or internet access,” Aguilar said.

He said there were between 12 to 15 people living there, and most people voluntarily evacuated already. Five people chose to stay behind, as of Monday evening.

“We just make sure we know who lived there. How many people were there, their names, the next of kin,” Aguilar said.

Red Flag Warnings, which indicate more dangerous conditions for fires to spread, were in effect for much of northern New Mexico, Monday, as hot temperatures combined with windy conditions.

Gila has lion’s share of wildfires

There are currently 15 major wildfires burning across the state, according to InciWeb, a federal map of wildfire conditions. The vast majority are in southern New Mexico, and the bulk of those are in the Gila National Forest.

Some of the fires in the Gila are months old, burning tens of thousands of acres across wilderness areas. The Pass Fire, for example, was ignited by a lighting strike on May 18, and has burned nearly 60,000 acres.These conditions were expected based on predictions earlier this year, said Rich Naden, a fire meteorologist at the Southwest Coordination Center in Albuquerque, which is part of the National Interagency Fire Center.

He said the wet winter and spring slowed the opening of the fire season, but the weaker monsoon will be “extending the season much longer than usual.”

“We’re having fires or problematic burns well into the timeframe that normally we are not getting incidents,” Naden said.

The weaker monsoon is due to the temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, El Niño that often causes hotter, drier summers in the Southwest. El Niño, coupled with hotter temperatures from climate change, brought record temperatures in a heat dome covering parts of New Mexico, Mexico and Texas.

New forecasts show that the monsoon pattern will be sporadic in August. Sometimes it helps firefighting efforts, to slow fires, and give plants moisture, but other times, it can hurt, Naden said, pointing to recent lightning-ignited fires.

There may be some relief – eventually.

“I do anticipate a wetter mid-to-late fall and early winter for our region,” Naden said. “But we just need to get there, and we’re not there yet.”

 2023 wildfires in New Mexico

Santa Fe National Forest

Black Feather Fire  2,000 acres, no containment

San Juan National Forest

American Mesa Fire 756 acres, 25% contained

Lincoln National Forest

Apple Tree Fire 365 acres, 65% contained

Gila National Forest

Divide Fire 26,514 acres, 94% contained

Pasture Fire 8,353 acres 21% contained

Dark Fire 2,052 acres, 5% contained

Prior Fire 10,121 acres, no containment

Porcupine Fire 3,244 acres, no containment

Turkey Fire 3,178 acres, no containment

Dolan Fire 2,100 acres, no containment

Noonday Fire 927 acres, no containment

Magdalena RD Hutchinson Fire 2,816 acres, 100% contained

Tub Fire 305 acres, 30% contained

Davis Fire 6,073 acres, 54% contained

Pass Fire 59,883 acres, 55% contained


There is also one controlled burn in the Carson National Forest Dorado/Cañada del Agua Prescribed Fire, which has burned 3,318 acres.


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Danielle Prokop
Danielle Prokop

Danielle Prokop covers the environment and local government in Southern New Mexico for Source NM. Her coverage has delved into climate crisis on the Rio Grande, water litigation and health impacts from pollution. She is based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.