Wildfire-Prevention Measure Creates Wildfire
A wood chipping operation, to grind up trees that had been previously cut to mitigate the potential of a wildland fire triggered last Thursday’s Rifle Fire east of Fort Stanton.
The wildland fire went on to scorch 600 acres of land.
Some sort of “equipment” had initially been listed as the cause of the Rifle Fire by New Mexico’s State Forestry Division.
But spontaneous combustion was determined to have been the cause, said Travis Atwell, the director of Lincoln County’s Office of Emergency Services.
“It was a pile of wood chips, shavings. They chipped it all wet,” Atwell said. “And when you chip it wet and it sits there and it starts to dry, it will actually start creating its own heat.”
The contractor on the thinning project noticed smoke and notified emergency responders.
“We only had a couple of little spots smoldering and then the temperature came up and the whole pile went up,” Atwell said.
The shredding was part of a thinning operation of a cost share project between New Mexico’s Forestry Division and the county.
The blaze and smoke forced the closure of 18 miles of U.S. Highway 380 between Capitan and Hondo during part of Thursday afternoon. And three miles of State Road 220 (Airport Road) from U.S. Highway 380 to Fort Station were also closed. The fire had jumped Airport Road.
Initially firefighters from a number of Lincoln County volunteer departments were called in, with
other state and federal agencies responding as well. Two single engine air tankers and a heavy air tanker were used to battle the flames that burned in brush, grasses and pinon juniper trees.
The Rifle Fire ran through state and Bureau of Land Management lands. Winds from the west/southwest raced at up to 48 miles per hour at the nearby Sierra Blanca Regional Airport.
Some fire crews were called back to the location early Sunday afternoon when smoke was observed in the previously burned area. A small area had rekindled as breezy conditions returned to the region.
Lincoln County’s Office of Emergency Services used a new Polaris Ranger six-by-six all terrain vehicle to get to part of Thursday’s Rifle Fire.
“That thing has paid off,” Atwell said. “Right off the bat, to get up the side of the ridge where the fire was going, we couldn’t get a fire truck up there. But the six-wheeler went right up.”
The all terrain vehicle carries 70 gallons of water and five gallons of foam, which when combined have the suppression capability of 200 to 250 gallons of water.
“It took care of about three-quarters of a mile of fire line,” Atwell said. “We got in there and went to the arroyo where the trucks couldn’t go and took care of it pretty quick.”
The vehicle, which went into service in late March, has been used to get close-in on four wildland fires and two house fires.
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