Experts Predict Intense Fire Activity in Arizona and New Mexico

April 10, 2006

Fire and snowpack experts are predicting an intense fire season in May and June, with stream flows below average.

According to a report released by the Southwest Coordination Center, the potential for large, intense fires is expected to hit record highs from late May through mid-June. The agency handles fire information for Arizona and New Mexico.

Already this year, fires have burned more than 210,000 acres, mostly grasslands on New Mexico’s eastern plains.

The report predicts 10 percent to 15 percent more fires than usual and as many as 40 percent more acres burned.

Runoff forecasts by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, meanwhile, predict dismal stream flows. The Pecos River will flow at 9 percent of average into Santa Rosa Reservoir and the Rio Grande is forecast at 18 percent of normal into Elephant Butte Reservoir.

The best snowpack in New Mexico this spring is 67 percent of average in the San Juan basin, with flows into Navajo Reservoir expected to be half of normal. Elephant Butte is at 36 percent of average levels for April.

Because of the drought, there could be far-reaching effects.

Farmers in Las Cruces will get a fraction of normal irrigation allocations, mountain areas could go up in flames and biologists will be challenged to rescue the endangered Rio Grande silvery minnow.

Precipitation in March delayed the onset of widespread fire activity until May but came too late to ease the potential for big blazes, said Chuck Maxwell, fire weather program manager at the Southwest Coordination Center.

Warm, dry weather in May and June, along with an existing buildup of fuels, will “cause a rapid escalation of the fire potential,” the report says.

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