Fires in the New Mexico, USA
01 June 2012
Desert grasslands and scrub forests (tan) dominate the lower elevations at Gila, but at higher elevations coniferous forests (green) full of white fir, blue spruce, and Douglas fir thrive. The amount of smoke the fire released increased as it encountered the coniferous forests at high elevations. When MODIS captured this image, the fire was burning through a densely-forested area around Willow Mountain, a 3,280-meter (10,760-foot) peak in the Mogollon Mountains. The Plains of San Agustin, a dried lake bed with minimal vegetation, is also visible near the top of the image. The plain is home to a world-famous radio telescope facility used by astronomers called the Very Large Array.
Strong winds pushed wildfire smoke across much of southwestern New Mexico. The area is sparsely populated, but on May 22, 2012, authorities ordered a precautionary evacuation of Willow Creek, a campground and summer community just north of the fire. Two days later, the fire had destroyed twelve summer homes and seven outbuildings at Willow Creek. Strong winds and rugged terrain have proven significant obstacles for crews attempting to fight the blaze.
Drought put much of New Mexico and Arizona at risk of wildfire. The National Center for Drought Mitigation produces daily maps based in part on data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) that indicated more than half of New Mexico was in the midst of severe or moderate drought. Numerous other large fires have burned recently in Arizona.
The rest of the 2012 fire season in the Southwest will likely be busy, according to the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As Climate Central noted, the region is expected to face an unusually hot and dry summer due to back-to-back La Niña events in the South Pacific.
While the fire season in the Southeast has gotten off to an early start, the total number of fires and acreage burned nationally to date is below average, according to statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). However, the group notes there’s a higher than normal risk that large fires will occur in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico through August.
NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center. Caption by Adam Voiland.
According to figures released by the U.S. Forest Service, the Whitewater-Baldy fire had burned 170,272 acres (266 square miles), surpassing a fire that burned 156,293 acres (244 square miles) near Los Alamos in 2011. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this view of the fire around 4:00 p.m. local time (20:00 Universal Time) on May 29, 2012.
Lightning started the Whitewater-Baldy fire on May 16, and more than a thousand firefighters have battled the blaze since then. The area’s extremely rugged terrain and strong winds have hampered progress, while a mixture of timber, mixed conifer, ponderosa pine, pinon, and grass all burned. Officials have ordered a mandatory evacuation for Mogollon, a small community near the edge of the fire.
NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center. Caption by Adam Voiland.
Wildland Fire related news from the Media: Note: The hyperlinks on the left side of each news are password-protected (User ID and password to enter the GFMC database are available for partners of GFMC). The links on the right side (in brackets) are leading to the original news source; sometimes these news are expiring rather swiftly - a reason for the establishment of the internal GFMC database):
New Mexico fire haze reaches Prescott area as city sets heat record (published by www.dcourier.com, 01 June 2012)
New Mexico's Largest Fire Growing in All Directions (published by www.firehouse.com, 31 May 2012)
Wildfire is close to being New Mexico's largest ever (published by www.semissourian.com, 30 May 2012)
Fire rages at Gila National Forest, residents worry it will spread even more (published by www.kfoxtv.com, 28 May 2012)
Video news about fires in Western USA, reported by NBC TV.