SANTA FE, NM – Aug. 9, 2016 – For Immediate Release. Fire managers on the Santa Fe National Forest today hope to begin operations to expand the lightning-caused Virgin Fire on the Jemez Ranger District to achieve multiple objectives on the landscape.
Lightning struck the southern end of Virgin Mesa two miles southwest of Jemez Springs on July 24. Because the area is located within the footprint of the Southwest Jemez Mountains Forest Restoration project and has been designated for treatment, fire managers monitored the Virgin Fire as it burned at low intensity while they analyzed its potential to benefit forest health in a fire-adapted ecosystem.
The Virgin Fire received some precipitation overnight. The strategy today is to assess conditions on the 2,100-acre planning area and begin blacklining the perimeter. If conditions are favorable, crews could begin hand ignitions as early as this afternoon. Based on current and forecasted conditions, which include moisture later this week followed by a drying trend over the weekend, the plan is to begin aerial ignitions next week. If conditions change, fire managers will reassess their strategy for the Virgin Fire.
The objectives for the Virgin Fire include mitigating the risk of catastrophic wildfire by reducing forest fuels, enhancing wildlife habitat by reducing dense understories and increasing forbs and grass cover, improving forest and watershed health, and protecting nearby communities.
The Virgin Fire is burning in ponderosa pine litter and dead and down timber. Strategic and tactical decisions for managing this fire to benefit the landscape are based on the Wildland Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS).
The forest’s first priority is always firefighter and public safety. Other priorities for the Virgin Fire include protecting and enhancing habitat for the Mexican spotted owl, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, and preserving the multiple archaeological and cultural sites in the area.
Smoke from the Virgin Fire may be visible from NM Highway 4, US Route 550, the Pueblo of Jemez, Gilman and Jemez Springs. Smoke-sensitive individuals and people with respiratory problems are encouraged to take precautionary measures. Information on air quality and protecting your health can be found online at the New Mexico Department of Health’s website at https://nmtracking.org/fire.
Historically, low-intensity wildfires burned through southwestern forests every two to 10 years as part of a natural cycle that removed leaf litter, eradicated disease and thinned the understory, making room for new growth. Fire managers are taking advantage of the Virgin Fire to return low-intensity fire to this landscape in a controlled operation that meets forest objectives.
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