Prescribed Fire Projects Planned for Ojo Sarco and Canjilon

With winter weather continuing to bring moisture to Northern New Mexico, Carson National Forest fire staff are preparing to move forward with ignitions of debris piles near the communities of Ojo Sarco and Canjilon. These prescribed fires would only move forward pending suitable conditions. 

Fire crews this week completed the 2023 Willow Piles Prescribed Fire, where debris piles created from 421 acres of thinning near Hopewell Lake were treated. It was the first prescribed fire on the Carson National Forest since the USDA Forest Service National Prescribed Fire Review was released in September 2022. 

“Our first project using the requirements and recommendations from the national review was a success,” said Forest Supervisor James Duran. “Nonetheless, we will still move forward thoughtfully as we re-engage communities and partners in different parts of the Forest.” 

Ojo Sarco Piles Prescribed Fire 

Ignitions of piles outside Ojo Sarco, NM, could begin as early as Mar. 7. The piles, which were created from 137 acres of thinning, are south of the community and along New Mexico Highway 76 (map). 

This is a continuation of years of work to provide fuelwood opportunities and increase forest health and resiliency around Ojo Sarco, which is positioned atop sloped terrain aligned with predominate southwest winds. A fire start southwest of the community is a concern to fire managers because the typical southwesterly flow of winds could spread a fire to the northeast, where the community is situated. But with reduced fuel around the community because of this project, a safer space is created for firefighters to engage a wildfire and for crews to safely continue prescribed fire as a fuels reduction tool in the wildland-urban interface. 

“I’m eager to see these piles addressed before the spring so they do not add to any fire danger over the upcoming fire season” said Camino Real District Ranger Michael Lujan. “Getting to this point has been a long journey, but we couldn’t do it without the support of the public and partner organizations.” 

A community meeting about the Ojo Sarco Piles Prescribed Fire will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Mon., March 6 at the Ojo Sarco Fire Department, Ojo Sarco Volunteer Fire Department 2228 New Mexico Hwy 76 Ojo Sarco, NM 87521. Download the flyer.

The 417-acre Ojo Sarco project has had several phases, including a public green fuelwood block in 2016, a thinning contract in 2017 and hand piling by Rocky Mountain Youths Corps followed by prescribed fire in 2018. The remaining 137 acres were thinned and piled this past summer by local contractors from Mora and Taos, who were subcontracted by the nonprofit – and Carson National Forest partner – New Mexico Forest Industry Association. The area has been opened several times throughout the life of the project to offer dead and down fuelwood to the public. 

On the ground, local fire departments are assisting. Red River Fire Department, along with Forest Service crews, constructed control line along the unit boundary. The Ojo Sarco Volunteer Fire Department is planning to assist Forest Service crews with ignitions of the piles along Highway 76 this winter. 

Canjilon Piles Prescribed Fire 

Debris piles from 53 acres of thinning to the north of Canjilon. NM, could be ignited later this year. The piles are situated on Forest Service land near the boundary with private parcels to reduce fuels and build an extra buffer for future broadcast prescribed fire throughout the larger landscape north of the community. 

Years of work have gone into reducing fuels near communities, restoring forested areas and improving the watershed around Canjilon, an unincorporated agricultural valley completely surrounded by Carson National Forest. A secondary benefit of the treatments has been ongoing opportunities for dead and down fuelwood collection. Thinning and prescribed fire treatments started in 2011 and will continue into future years to maintain the forest’s resiliency.  

“We’re not alone in this effort,” said Angie Krall, the acting district ranger for the West Zone, which includes the Canjilon Ranger District. “Fire knows no boundaries and private land owners have been pivotal in thinning and conducting their own fuels reduction treatments.” 

State partners have played a major role in the Canjilon area. The New Mexico Forestry Division has paid $1.97 million for contract crews to conduct thinning on Carson National Forest lands and has assisted landowners with thinning treatments, in most cases directly adjacent to treatments on Carson National Forest lands. The Carson National Forest and New Mexico Forestry Division are planning to continue this partnership to treat additional acres in the next few years. The New Mexico Department of Game & Fish has also contributed several million dollars to forest restoration efforts on the Carson National Forest, including in the Canjilon area, over the last decade 

Stay Updated 

Updates for both projects will be posted to InciWeb (incident pages forthcoming), New Mexico Fire Information and Carson National Forest’s website and social media channels (FacebookTwitter). Forest staff will hold cooperator meetings with local government partners during and after ignitions. 

Why Prescribed Fire? 

The Forest Service’s national fire management strategy is centered on long-term forest health, and that strategy includes reducing forest fuels and using prescribed fire on the landscape. In order to maintain resiliency, fire-adapted forests in the Southwest region must undergo fire disturbance on a regular basis. After prescribed fire is completed, if a future wildfire reaches this area, the fire behavior will likely be modified to a less intense, more manageable surface fire due to the absence of accumulated debris and ladder fuels.  

The Big Picture 

The Carson National Forest is part of two national initiatives to confront the wildfire crisis and restore lands. The efforts cover 95% of the 1.5 million-acre forest and are broken down into two separate projects: Enchanted Circle Wildfire Crisis Strategy Landscape in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where the Ojo Sarco piles are located, and the Rio Chama Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program in the San Juan Mountains, where the Canjilon piles can be found. Each project involves shared stewardship with multiple partners and cover lands beyond Forest boundaries. 

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