That smoke cloud over the Sangre de Cristos on Tuesday was no mirage.
The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire is alive and active.
The fire grew by 5,000 acres Monday and Tuesday, driven by winds as high as 63 mph into unburned green islands within the fire line and moving quickly into the Rio Valdez area in the Pecos Wilderness.
The fire made a four- to five-mile run northeast on Monday, said operations section chief Heath Barker, and moved again Tuesday as winds continued to play havoc with air support and ground suppression efforts.
The sudden and significant move east of the Hamilton Mesa Trail is concerning to fire officials, who had seen the blaze slow considerably in the past two weeks.
Though the containment in the fire remains 70 percent, its total burned acreage is now
But in a sign the fire is not nearly as threatening as it once was, only 2,252 personnel are now assigned to it, though some have been moved to the nearby Midnight Fire.
At one time, there were nearly 3,100 people on the ground.
Officials said hot, windy weather with little humidity is hampering firefighting efforts, particularly for aircraft carrying water and fire retardant. Air crews could not be dispatched for much of Tuesday due to high winds.
Another problem in the bulge where the fire is expanding is the difficult terrain of the Pecos Wilderness.
Weather experts on the fire said it should improve somewhat Wednesday, with the potential for rain in the area as early as Thursday and through the weekend.
Operations section chief Jayson Coil, who helps head the efforts on the north end of the fire, warned that expected rain later in the week should not be used as a crutch.
“Rain’s not here yet,” Coil said. “Fire is here now.”
Meanwhile, the Midnight Fire in Rio Arriba County has grown to 4,844 acres with zero percent containment. The fire grew to the west and, in some places, to the east Tuesday.
Fire moving to the east is a problem both for the watershed in the area, but also could threaten the community of Vallecitos.