The tail end of the peak wildfire season is quickly approaching, but that doesn’t mean the Santa Fe National Forest is out of … well, the woods.
Officials acknowledge summer monsoon activity has given them a lucky break — actually, several of them, in the form of persistent rain showers — during the past few weeks. And though they continue to battle the persistent Venado Fire near Jemez Springs, there is a sense of hope the Santa Fe National Forest may be spared a much-feared catastrophic blaze.
“We really haven’t had that active a fire season,” Forest Service spokesman Bruce Hill said. “And it’s surprising because we’ve been in extreme fire danger for so long, and in closure longer than anyone here can remember.”
Nevertheless, Hill said fire officials will remain wary throughout this month and next because while “monsoons have been treating us pretty well across the forest,” it doesn’t mean wildfire season is over.
“We know there are parts of the forest that haven’t received rain for extended periods of time, even when other [areas] receive flooding,” Hill said. “And those [drier] areas could be more susceptible to a higher fire danger.”
The Santa Fe National Forest was closed for much of June as temperatures in New Mexico rose against the backdrop of a long and crushing drought. It reopened in July, but the most significant fires in the area, like the Venado, have been caused by lightning, not people.
Still, Hill urged caution for those visiting the forest.
“The point we try to impress upon the public is to be careful,” he said. “Winds could pick up. There could be heavy fuels nearby and those can ignite. Maybe it’s not as severe as it would’ve been and could’ve been when we were experiencing our driest conditions, but there’s always that risk.”
The Venado Fire has burned nearly 3,600 acres since it was spotted July 20, but is now at 66 percent containment, according to the Forest Service. Rain is forecast throughout the week, which could help as crews work to turn the corner.
The number of people battling the Venado Fire has dropped to 152, according to the Forest Service. Crews are working to minimize its spread to the south and west, with Forest Roads 376 and 488 temporarily closed.