Dry spring forces Carson forest into first-level fire restrictions


Fire restrictions on public lands around Taos have been topics of conversation in recent weeks as the bone-dry forests have seen little moisture or relief from the recent drought. Starting Monday (May 7), the Carson National Forest will enter the first tier of restrictions, amounting to a limited burn ban in the forest.

The Stage I restrictions are not an all-or-nothing ban on fire. Campfires are still allowed, but only in official fire rings and grills. Wood collecting with a chainsaw is also fine as long as the devices have spark arresters.

The limits on fires were announced Monday (April 30), according to a press release from the forest.

Stage I is the initial round of fire restrictions used in the national forest system. Stage II restrictions are essentially a ban on any open flame with campfires and shooting any firearms prohibited.

If the forest gets dry enough and moisture is still a pipe dream in meteorological forecasts, forest managers could get even more stringent with fire limits-- a full forest closure under Stage III restrictions.

Fire restrictions on public lands aren't uncommon in Taos. The summer of 2013 was the last time the forest saw an initial round of fire restrictions like those soon to be put in place. The forest went into Stage I restrictions in May and came out of them two months later. Enough rain fell that the town went ahead with a July 4 firework show.

But two years before that, in 2011, the forest was completely closed to the public for a time, according to Taos News archives. During that period, no hiking, biking or even horseback riding was permitted. The Camino Real Ranger District was the last of the forest to reopen. The Carson has units spanning from the Sangre de Cristo range west to the south San Juan Mountains and even further west toward Bloomfield.

Stage I restrictions have also been introduced in the Santa Fe National Forest, where the Española Ranger District saw a fire break out Monday (April 30). The Chicoma Fire grew to 42 acres, with approximately 60 firefighters, including four engines, two water tenders, one 20-person hotshot crew, one 20-person handcrew, and one helicopter, responding.

As of press time, the fire was reported as 50 percent contained. Elsewhere around the state, Cibola National Forest has placed two of its ranger districts under Stage II restrictions.

The town of Taos and Taos County jointly imposed a burn ban April 18. The ban will remain in effect at least through Friday (May 4), according to an email from Taos County's emergency manager.

Under current conditions, no open burning is allowed, including of brush or slash piles, weeds or along acequias. Charcoal and propane grills are OK. Taos County Commissioners did not vote on a longer-term ban at the May 1 meeting as was planned. Burn ban updates will be posted to taosnews.com.

Unincorporated areas of Colfax County are still under a burn ban, which was instituted March 13.

Federal Bureau of Land Management lands in Santa Fe County are under fire restrictions until further notice. Campfires and wood stoves, target shooting and fireworks are not allowed. Violations are punishable by a $1,000 fine, up to 12 months in jail or both, according to a press release from the BLM.