As of July 11, the Las Conchas fire continues to burn and has scarred nearly 150,000 acres of Santa Fe National Forest in Sandoval, Los Alamos and Rio Arriba counties in northern New Mexico and has caused eight injuries.
The fire’s destruction has claimed 63 homes and 44 outbuildings, while threatening hundreds of other structures and commercial properties.
People were requested, and sometimes forced, to evacuate from communities in the vicinity of the Corps’ Cochiti Lake campground, and the recreation site was closed throughout the July 4 holiday weekend and is targeted to remain closed through July 19. All the while, the lake and campground have been sites of frenzied activity, as hundreds of wild land firefighters have been staged there, as well as several helicopters being used to draw water for the firefighting effort.
The Corps’ primary role in the fire operation is to provide general support, secured operating space for helicopters and other equipment and sleeping space for tired fire teams.
Nearly 1,800 people, including 32 fire crews operating 68 engines, 33 water tenders and 11 bulldozers are involved in the firefighting effort.
With only 50 percent of the fire contained and continued gusty winds and dry conditions, the fire rages on. Unfortunately, left behind are weakened trees, a wide debris-field and hydrophobic soil that can wreak havoc during flooding. The burned ground has a crust of ash and crystallized soil that will not allow water to penetrate; thus, when the rains begin, debris, ash and burned soil will slough off into streams, tributaries and rivers. The clogging will result in flooding, and the situation is inevitable and, unfortunately, necessary for the ground to return to pre-fire condition and be able to absorb water once again. The timing of the fire is unlucky, as New Mexico’s rainy season typically starts around this time.