This story was updated Friday (June 16) at 12:30 p.m.
A lightning-sparked fire located 19 miles north of El Rito in Bonita Canyon has grown to 4,000 acres since it began early this month. Fire crews are working to confine the fire, which is 25 percent contained as of today.
Smoke in Vallecitos Canyon and adjacent local communities was substantial Thursday (June 15) and is expected to remain so today, according to the Carson National Forest. "The amount of smoke is expected to diminish each day now that a significant amount of fuel is no longer available to the fire. The highest concentration of smoke will occur around sunrise each day. Smoke will disperse during daylight hours," the U.S. Forest Service said.
"Residents of these areas are advised to close their windows and keep them closed until smoke dissipates. If your health is affected negatively from exposure to smoke take extra care to stay inside or move to an area with better air quality. You should also see your doctor or healthcare professional as needed," the agency said. Smoke from the fire may be visible from Tres Piedras, Cañón Plaza, Vallecitos, La Madera and El Rito; smoke can also be seen in Taos. Information on air quality can be found online at the New Mexico Department of Health's website at nmtracking.org/fire.
The wildfire was reported June 3 and has increased in size due to wind and dry air. It is burning in a remote area of the El Rito Ranger District of the Carson National Forest west of Taos that's dominated by ponderosa pine, piñón, juniper, a grass understory and mixed conifers at higher elevations.
Last week, fire managers were considering using the natural-start fire to achieve several ecologically beneficial, landscape-scale goals on a 4,600-acre section of the forest. But dry and windy weather conditions, combined with low humidity, caused fire managers to begin to actively suppress the fire. At the same time that wildland firefighters are containing the fire, crews are also using low-intensity fire to clean out the understory within the current burn area.
About 165 people are stationed on the Bonita fire. Efforts undertaken Tuesday (June 13) largely focused on using hand ignitions to remove fuel from the fire and secure the fire boundary along forest roads.
According to a June 14 update from the Carson National Forest, "aerial ignitions may be used on the interior of the fire to further reduce fuels and clean up the understory. Weather conditions will be monitored to determine the best opportunity for this work to proceed."
Protecting archaeological and cultural sites is a another priority for the Bonita wildfire operation. According to Jim Gumm, El Rito district ranger, those sites include historic carved aspen stands, a mining site, a possible historic sawmill and a historic cabin that was discovered by wildland firefighters while scouting the Bonita fire.
A closure order for those lands located within the boundaries of the Bonita fire area remains in effect until further notice. The area within Forest Roads 42, 42F and 274 is closed due to the proximity of the fire and heavy fire traffic. The Continental Divide Trail is not within the closure area. However, smoke may impact the trail. For information regarding the forest closure, contact the El Rito Ranger District at (575) 581-4554.
For more on the Bonita fire, check taosnews.com. Fire information can also be found by calling the Bonita information line at (575) 581-4554 during normal business hours or visiting the Carson National Forest Facebook page at facebook.com/CarsonNF or Twitter @CarsonNF.