An ongoing drying trend across the 1.6 million acres of the Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF) combined with continued negligence by a small number of forest visitors have fire managers concerned about an early start to the 2020 fire season.
Despite the campfire ban that went into effect on April 15, fire patrols on the first weekend in May reported 11 abandoned campfires, and law enforcement officers ticketed multiple illegal campfires. Fortunately, none of the prohibited campfires got out of control.
But with low fuel moisture levels and other indices pushing most of the state into high fire danger and a large number of quarantine-weary visitors on the forest, the risk of human-caused wildfire is rising.
“We understand why people are desperate for outdoor recreation right now, but we are also very mindful of current fire indices and drought conditions on the forest,” Forest Supervisor James Melonas said. “This fire season, containing the spread of COVID-19 is a significant addition to our focus on safety. Human-caused fires put our firefighters and our communities at unnecessary risk.”
Patrols last weekend also reported overcrowded day use and dispersed camping sites in violation of state public health orders on group size and social distancing. In addition to the campfire ban, the Forest Service has implemented closure orders in alignment with federal guidance and state public health orders to limit the spread of COVID-19. Although the forest remains open to the public, social distancing and restrictions on group size still apply. As a reminder, at this time:
· All developed campgrounds on the SFNF are closed to overnight camping.
· All toilet facilities on the forest are locked.
· Campfires, charcoal grills, and coal and wood burning stoves are prohibited.
· Some picnic/day use sites are closed to the public.
· Trash collection is suspended. Please take your garbage home.
Guidance from the New Mexico Department of Health is to stay home and save lives. If you do plan to visit the national forest, please recreate responsibly and be considerate of others, including the residents of gateway communities like Jemez Springs, Cuba and Pecos. Avoid unnecessary exposure, wear a mask, and follow the rules and guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.