ANGEL FIRE — After burning only 105 of the 900 acres included in the plans for a prescribed fire south of Angel Fire last week, the organizations involved hope to pick up where they left off later this fall or next spring.
“We do have plans to return,” Eytan Krasilovsky of the Forest Guild said. “I think that’s going to depend on weather and how we can pull back in a lot of our resources again and schedule it.”
A nonprofit organization based in Santa Fe, the Forest Guild collaborated the burn with about a dozen other entities, including the New Mexico State Land Office, the U.S. Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy’s Fire Learning Network.
The burn was scheduled for Sept. 30 through Oct. 4 on up to 900 acres of state trust land immediately northeast of N.M. 434 and N.M. 120, which is about five miles south of Angel Fire.
The 34 fire professionals at the site burned about 85 acres on the northeast side of the prescription area Oct. 1 and 20 more on the northeast and south central sides Oct. 2. They also considered burning on Oct. 3 but decided not to set any more fires because a red-flag warning signaled high fire danger on the plains east of Angel Fire that day.
In addition, the burning was hindered by the roughly four inches of rain that fell on the prescription area in the weeks before the project.
“The moisture from the weather goes both ways. It was favorable for control, but it also made some ignition more difficult,” Krasilovsky said. “The incident command team decided to go ahead with the smaller acreage.”
One of the fire professionals helping with the burn, Jeremy Bailey of the Nature Conservancy said the fire would not burn through the grass because of the moisture.
“The first thing that we did yesterday (Oct. 1) morning was we burned in a couple of different areas to figure out what was flammable and what was not flammable,” he said. “I think the experienced folks have a general idea, but we still need to test our assumptions and figure out what is going to be burnable for the next couple of days.”
Although the crews at the site extinguished several small fires ignited by embers that drifted out of the prescription area, Krasilovsky said, “the fire never left the line.”
“There was never any slop,” he said. “There were spots, as expected, and that’s why we had all of those people gridding the surrounding areas looking for them. And they were fully extinguished.”
Some trees lost lower limbs to the fire, and others were scorched from bottom to top. Although the burn probably killed some trees, Krasilovsky said, “it was well within accepted levels and also was accounted for in the thinning prescription.”
“Ecologically, a lot of the medium- and smaller-sized trees grew up without the low-intensity, frequent fire that the species are adapted to, so they never self-pruned a lot of their lower branches,” he said. “So this first entry, in addition to consuming the slash and helping the grasses and recycling nutrients into the soil, is also limbing up those trees to make them more resilient in the future. Flames creeping up tree bows is expected and OK.”
The incident command team extinguished all fire within 132 feet from the perimeter and patrolled the site every day through Saturday (Oct. 5), when the Angel Fire and Moreno Valley fire departments took over.
“We don’t extinguish anything within the burn area,” Bailey said last week, adding that crews would check the perimeter with their bare hands before leaving the site.
On Monday (Oct. 7), Krasilovsky said the site was still smoldering.
“There will be continued smoldering in some areas within the units that we burned,” he said. “And you may expect some flare-ups until the next precipitation event, whether that be rain or snow.”
However, Krasilovsky said he does not expect the fire to leave the perimeter.
“Now that the perimeters are all mopped up 132 feet in, there’s no chance of other spots happening (outside the fire line),” he said.
The southern border of the prescription area is only about 150 yards north of Susan Lane in Black Lake. To prepare for the burn, some residents in the area cut weeds, removed trees and even bought fire-fighting supplies to protect their properties.
Larry Holst, an ex-firefighter who lives in the area, said he believes the crews at the site were lucky that nothing went wrong.
“I was sitting there watching it, and it was torching out trees and going crazy there for a while,” he said. “Luckily the clouds came over and dropped the heat down, and humidity came up a little bit and probably saved them. It was ripping there for a while.”
However, Holst and others in the area said the fire brought a lot of smoke to their neighborhood.
“Wednesday (Oct. 2) was really smoky over here,” said nearby resident Nancy Loritch. “I came home from work Wednesday and my neighborhood was full of smoke.”
Her neighbor Jerry Becker said he was concerned that the crews at the site did not communicate with nearby homeowners during the burn.