Information obtained from the USDA Forest Service indicates that the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire, which began burning more than two months ago, is 100-percent contained.
This lightning-sparked wildfire was first detected on May 16, and quickly grew to become New Mexico’s largest fire on record, burning 297,845 acres (465 square miles) in that time.
Fire personnel battling this large fire reported on Wednesday, July 18 that they had reached 95-percent containment and expected to have the fire completely contained by Friday, July 20.
The Whitewater-Baldy Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Implementation Team, implemented on June 21, continues with treatments to minimize threats to life or property, and to protect natural and cultural resources.
A major part of this operation is the aerial seeding of 26,200 acres of severely burned area. The aerial seeding is part of the BAER effort to stabilize the soil and reduce the effects of water runoff in the Whitewater, Mineral Creek, and Willow Creek watersheds and the upper headwaters of the West and Middle Forks Gila River.
Working in two shifts, the contractors are now 43 percent complete with their seeding operation. Working at their current rate, they expected to be done by Friday, July 20.
In conjunction with the aerial seeding, close to 15,000 acres of the seeded area will also have mulch applied to aid in seed growth and soil stabilization. The mulching contract was awarded last Friday and contractors have already begun to stage straw along Forest Roads 141 and 28. Once it begins, the aerial-mulching will take approximately 45 days to complete. During this time residents in the communities of Willow Creek, Pleasanton, Glenwood, Alma, and Reserve may see helicopters and small airplanes in the area.
Residents in these areas may also already be aware of the increased semi-trailer traffic along State Highway 12, U.S. Highway 180, and U.S. Highway 60. There are logging trucks and semi-trucks hauling bales of straw on these routes. It is estimated that it will take 780 semi-trailers to transport the necessary amount of straw for the aerial mulching operation. This will translate to about 30 semi-trailers a day traveling into and through the community of Reserve and along Forest Road 141 and Forest Road 28 until all of the mulch has been offloaded. There will also be an increase in the amount of smaller trucks and trailers in the area, as they will be used to transport mulch from the main staging area to helicopter pick up areas. During this time please be aware of the increased traffic and use caution when traveling on these roads.
As a public safety measure, closure gates are being installed at the entrances to the South Fork Negrito Campgrounds, at the junction of Forest Road 28 and Snow Lake Road (Catron County Road C-021), and at the junction of Forest Road 153 and Bursum Road (State Highway 159).
As the monsoon rains continue, residents in the affected communities are urged to watch the weather closely and heed issued flood/flashflood warnings. Just because it’s not raining where you are does not mean it’s not raining at higher elevations.
Videos uploaded to YouTube and appearing on Facebook indicate that flooding has already been occurring near Alma, N.M., downstream from the Whitewater-Baldy burn scar.
For more information on the Whitewater-Baldy Complex BAER (Burned Area Emergency Response) or post fire-flood assessment, visit www.inciweb.org/incident/2900/ or call Julia Faith Rivera, BAER Public Information Officer, at (575) 388-8212 or Andrew Loescher, Assistant BAER Public Information Officer, at (575) 538-1157.
Additional closures are still are in effect in several areas. Visit the Gila National Forest website at www.fs.usda.gov/gila for current information or contact the Forest directly at (575) 388-8201.