With forecasts offering little hope of rain but the prospect of heavier winds, crews swept into the Carson National Forest in eastern Rio Arriba County on Thursday to continue the fight against a wildfire burning 55 acres near Vallecitos.
First reported Wednesday, the La Cañada Fire was scorching an area of wood fuel off a forest road, according to a statement from the U.S. Forest Service.
Initially estimated at 15 to 20 acres, the fire later was found to be about three times larger, crews confirmed Wednesday evening.
Carson National Forest spokeswoman Dorotea Martinez said crews aim to suppress the blaze before the weekend, when higher winds are expected.
Martinez also noted that the western section of the Carson National Forest, where the fire is burning, is relatively dry.
That is not expected to change during the next few days.
“Something weird is going on,” said Chuck Jones, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.
The next week will be unusually dry for July, he said, when afternoon storms over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains usually bring relief from the heat. “It’s going to feel like mid-June rather than mid-July.”
Sweltering Santa Feans can blame a storm system that Jones said is forecast to move over the northern Rocky Mountains from the Pacific Northwest in the coming days, pushing westerly winds down into New Mexico.
The breezes are expected to be a bit milder than the winds that usually whip the state in spring, he said, but will nonetheless scour out moisture.
Jones said winds are forecast to increase Sunday and peak Monday.
The National Weather Service forecasts temperatures in Santa Fe will reach the upper 80s each day through Sunday and drop into the lower 60s each night. The city might begin to cool down Monday, when temperatures are forecast to reach only the mid-80s and drop overnight to the mid-50s.
Jones said moisture could arrive late next week by way of Mexico.
But during the next few days, conditions do not bode well for forestry officials.
“It’s going to be unusually dry and breezy. And when you get those conditions, you worry about critical fire weather,” Jones said.
Crews dug a line around the fire west of Vallecitos on Wednesday night and maintained the perimeter through Thursday, Martinez said.
Several crews were on the scene, including engines, the Red River Fire Chasers and a helicopter from the Santa Fe National Forest. Martinez said the Carson Hotshots were expected to be released from the fire Thursday evening.
Burning close to Forest Road 44 west of Vallecitos and about four miles northeast of El Rito, the fire is not threatening any structures, she said.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Meanwhile, the San Pasqual Fire continued blazing at the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge about 11 miles south of San Antonio in Southern New Mexico.
A stopover for migrating birds, the refuge is known for drawing sandhill cranes, geese and waterfowl.
As of Thursday afternoon, the lightning-caused fire had burned 720 acres of salt cedar and cottonwoods but had little potential for further growth, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
With 75 personnel on scene, crews continued working to suppress the fire by putting out hot spots, removing hazardous trees and strengthening their lines.
Part of a road previously closed because of the fire has since been reopened, though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asks visitors to the area to watch out for engines.
Contact Andrew Oxford at 505-986-3093 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @andrewboxford.