Santa Fe National Forest plans to conduct the year’s first prescribed burn in the city watershed on Tuesday near Nichols Reservoir, weather permitting.

The one-day ignition will affect up to 500 acres, including 50 acres of piles, in the lower Santa Fe Municipal Watershed, the Forest Service said in a news release issued Thursday.

The burn is part of a more than 17,000-acre restoration project intended to remove dead trees and thin overgrown parts of the forest through low-intensity fire — an effort intended to prevent a severe wildfire that could encroach on the city or threaten two municipal reservoirs that provide water to 40 percent of Santa Fe, forest managers said in the statement.

The announcement comes as Santa Fe National Forest officials are deliberating over a multiyear plan to restore areas within a 50,000-acre span of the mountains near Santa Fe using fire and other thinning methods. Residents have expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of the proposal.

Firefighters will use hand-held, diesel drip-torches to conduct the prescribed burn, along with a helicopter to drop potassium permanganate, a chemical used to ignite large areas of complex terrain. This work is outlined under an environmental assessment that began in 2000 as part of the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed Project.

The Forest Service warned the burn will cause smoke to permeate populated areas of Santa Fe; smoke likely will be visible from Tesuque to Glorieta and along Interstate 25, and it could remain in the city for a week after the burn.

The New Mexico Environment and Health departments will monitor air quality during the burn.

The burn will be postponed if there is insufficient moisture, poor air quality, bad weather or intense wind, the Forest Service said.


Rebecca Moss has covered the environment and Los Alamos National Laboratory for the Santa Fe New Mexican since j2015. In 2018, she was selected to participate in the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

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