Tuesday, Jun 14, 2011
At about 2:30 p.m. on June 13th, a report came in about a fire on the Walnut Canyon Scenic Loop Road within Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Employees from Carlsbad Caverns and neighboring Guadalupe Mountains National Park responded immediately and tried to extinguish and contain the blaze. At this point the fire was only about three miles from the visitor center and heading in the direction of the main entrance road and other park facilities. Vegetation was tinder dry and easy to ignite because the park has received no measurable precipitation for eight months and had baked under the hot New Mexico sun.
Pushed by a hot, dry wind, the Loop Fire spread rapidly. By 3:30 p.m., park management announced the park was closing and visitors were directed to leave. By 4:00 p.m., employees and park residents were instructed to evacuate.
In these first hours, there was an urgent concern for hikers and researchers known to be in the backcountry. Luckily, the groups were contacted, accounted for, and left the park. Meanwhile, facility management employees stretched water hoses throughout the housing, maintenance, and historic areas and began soaking them. Volunteer and paid fire engines and crews from around the region responded quickly. At 10:00 p.m. the Pecos Zone Type III incident management team took over management of the fire. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Twenty-four hours after it started, the Loop Fire was estimated at 16,000 acres and 10% contained. The terrain is rugged and steep; the fuel type is piñon–juniper, brush, and grass. The gateway businesses/community of Whites City was evacuated. Fire burned over the park’s housing, maintenance, and historic district and visitor center.
Incredibly, no notable damage has occurred and no injuries have been reported. Park employees are assessing the condition of the park’s buildings and infrastructure. Of primary concern is possible damage to the park’s water, sewer, and electrical lines. Telephone and internet connections in the park are inoperable but communications in the administrative office in Carlsbad are working. When safe to do so, park staff will begin assessing impacts to park natural resources and wildlife.
For updates from the fire public information officer, click on the link below.