Tuesday, Jul 5, 2011
Having grown to approximately 121,000 acres as of Saturday, the Las Conchas Fire is now the largest wildfire in New Mexico's history. More than half the total acreage at Bandelier National Monument has been impacted by the blaze.
Although news of another significant fire at Bandelier is devastating, and while Bandelier friends and family are dealing with losses of homes and property, rays of hope help park staff cope with the rapidly changing conditions and situations. On Sunday, July 3rd, officials lifted evacuation orders for the nearby city of Los Alamos. The monument, however, remains closed until further notice.
Within an hour of the fire's start on Sunday afternoon, June 26th, a huge smoke column formed above the Jemez Mountains. Staff moved quickly and gathered at the East Jemez Interagency Fire Center. Within two hours, the rapidly advancing fire entered the monument. Frijoles Canyon was evacuated, and the monument was closed. That day visible flames could be seen from the Fire Center, and it was clear that the fire could make Frijoles Canyon that night. Law enforcement staff emptied two equipment trailers, and employees from all divisions pitched in to protect servers and computers, as well as some of Bandelier’s most precious artifacts and artworks that were on display in the visitor center. Working quickly, at times in bucket-line fashion, and with faltering light, employees worked until fire officials ordered them to leave the canyon. The salvaged items were safely transported to NPS offices in Santa Fe that evening.
Throughout the week, monument employees have been busy continuing critical operations, assessing ongoing impacts to the canyon, providing public information, and supporting interagency operations related to the Las Conchas Fire. Although communications have been very difficult without reliable cell phone service and with great distances that this fire encompasses, staff have come to rely heavily on web-based services for information sharing and public communications. Monument staff are using FaceBook and twitter (BandelierNPS) to inform the public, and operations such as the Public Information Office for the fire have set up Google accounts to manage communications and share documents where access to agency systems are not available. Even complex GIS maps critical to understanding the effects and progress of the fire are being developed remotely from the park and shared via various web services.
One very positive note is that as of Friday night, the fire line above Alcove house has held and the visitor center and Main Loop Trail area have remained intact. Thus far the largest collection of CCC structures in the nation have not been harmed by the largest wildfire in New Mexico History.