Prescribed Burn in the Jemez Spreading Haze Across Sandoval County; Forest Service Says it’s Also Reducing Wildfire Risk

Prescribed Burn in the Jemez Spreading Haze Across Sandoval County;
Forest Service Says its Also Reducing Wildfire Risk
Sandoval County, NM
October 19, 2012

The burn area is 3 to 5 miles northeast of Jemez Springs. Roughly 7,300 acres are being treated through the burn, which began Wednesday and will end no later than Sunday, according to the Forest Service.

Burns of this type are an integral component of the Jemez Mountain Restoration Project. The Forest Service describes this project as a long-term collaborative effort to restore sustainable ecological forest conditions on a landscape of approximately 210,000 acres in the Southwest Jemez Mountains.

The project also reflects the Forest Services new approach to managing forests, opting to do strategic clearing in hopes of preventing fires rather than focusing solely on suppressing fires after the fact.

Jon Williams, ecosystems staff officer for the Santa Fe National Forestwhich includes the Jemez Mountain Regionexplained the reasons behind this new approach at a Sandoval County Commission meeting on October 4, 2012.

The number of acres burned in wildfires annually has doubled since the 1960s, William said. Fire seasons are likely to become longer and more severe due to increased fuel loads and climate change.

Reducing these fuel loads is critical to protecting any space from potential wildfires, Williams told the county commission. He also reminded the commissioners of how devastating the Las Conchas Fire was to the Santa Fe National Forest and the Jemez Mountain region in particular.

Williams described the Las Conchas Fire, which started on June 26, 2011, as uncharacteristically severe and intense. In the first 12 hours, the fire had burned 43,782 acres, roughly an acre per second. In total, the fire burned 156,590 acres and destroyed more than 100 structures, including 63 residences. The total cost to suppress the fire was $41 million.

The Jemez Mountain Restoration Project is an attempt to avoid future situations of this type, Williams said. This project won special funding of $35 million in a competition that included 32 proposals from Forest Service Districts across the country. That amount, when combined with an additional $35 million in appropriations from the regular Forest Service budget, will account for the $70 million directed toward this project over the next 10 years.

The project is expected to follow an action plan that includes prescribed burns, mechanical thinning of trees and making improvements to watersheds and wildlife habitats.

Josh Hall, also with the Forest Service, said prescribed burns, while creating the type of haze were currently seeing throughout Sandoval County, pose less of a health threat than wildfires. Thats because prescribed burns typically generate two to four times less smoke than a wildfire, and the duration of a prescribed burn can be limited.

Still, Hall advises people who are susceptible to respiratory problems such as the elderly, young children and anyone with heart problems to limit their time outdoors during a prescribed burn.