Nearly 30 abandoned campfires — with several still burning — were discovered by fire prevention patrols over the weekend in the Santa Fe National Forest.
Forest Service officials say the repeated scenes over Mother's Day weekend are a bad start to what many expect will be a difficult wildfire season. Abandoned campfires are always a problem, but to find several burning without any attempt to extinguish them is something new, said Santa Fe National Forest spokeswoman Julie Anne Overton.
"We always have issues with abandoned campfires, but for the fire folks who have come upon those abandoned campfires, I think it was a shock to them," she said.
Abandoned campfires are the leading human cause of wildfires, according to a Forest Service news release.
Northern New Mexico forest officials are discussing implementing fire restrictions before Memorial Day weekend due to the hotter, drier conditions forecast this summer, according to the news release. Nine fires already are burning in New Mexico and Arizona, consuming nearly 21,000 acres, according to the news release.
Overton said these problems are often caused by inexperienced campers. Wildfire safety is not a priority in every state and novice hikers and campers are often unaware of the safety requirements in place when they come to Santa Fe National Forest, she said.
"Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen visitor traffic to the National Forest increase exponentially," Overton said. "I think a lot of the people are new to outdoor recreation. For a lot of people, this may be the very first time they've actually set foot on a national forest or gone camping on national forest."
Proper campfire extinguishing requires only two things: five gallons of water and a shovel. Overton said the best way to put out a campfire is to mix and stir the water with the smoldering ashes, coal and dirt.
"As you get closer to that mud pie substance, if you still feel heat, you have more work to do. You should not leave that site until when you put your hand down there it's literally cool to the touch," she said.
The Forest Service and Santa Fe National Forest are urging visitors and community members to follow fire safety guidelines and recommendations.