Numerous abandoned campfires had to be extinguished this past weekend, as a record number of people head to the Cibola National Forest. That’s according to spokeswoman Donna Nemeth of the Forest Service.

“A record number of visitors have been enjoying the Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands in recent weeks; however, not everyone has been respectful of the campfire restrictions that are currently in place,” Nemeth said.

A campfire restriction was enacted April 15, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and remains in place. The restrictions include igniting, building, maintaining, attending or using a fire, which are prohibited on all national forests in New Mexico until further notice. The restriction is an effort to reduce fire fighter exposure to COVID-19 by minimizing their response to human-caused fires, according to a press release from the Forest Service.

Violating the campfire restriction may result in an appearance in federal court, fines, and possible time in jail. Pressurized liquid or gas devices (stoves, grills or lanterns) with shut-off valves are permitted in areas at least three feet from any flammable materials.

“Three illegal campfires were reported and sited in Red Canyon,” Ernest Taylor of the Mountainair Ranger District said, adding, “Another camper called it in and they got citations by the county sheriff.”

abandoned campfire

A hot ring left while the hunter was away, showing long logs hanging out of the ring. Photo courtesy of Arlene Perea.

The conditions in the Mountainair Ranger District are currently “high” and under “red flag warning.” Taylor said the upcoming weeks are predicted to be hot.

He said the outlook over the next week is “significant fire potential.” With warming temperatures, fuels drying and breezy spring conditions, and near record temperatures, the potential for fire is here, he said.

Taylor said that weather conditions are also predicting a “back door cold front, showing up Wednesday, and that might help.”

The Santa Fe County Fire Marshal announced an open burn ban, effective May 2, until further notice.

The ban is an effort to help mitigate the negative effects of COVID-19 by eliminating unwanted particulates and irritants in the air which may exacerbate breathing difficulties, and will help emergency personnel with availability and to be fully equipped to respond to any call due to the current public health emergency, a press release from the county said. In addition, it will reduce the risk of unwanted human-caused wild land fires in the unincorporated areas of Santa Fe county.

There are some exceptions to the ban. Recreational fires for pleasure, religious, ceremonial, cooking, warmth, or similar purposes, not larger than 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet high, located 25 feet away from any structure or combustible materials are allowed. Outdoor gas stoves or grills with a shut-off valve, located 3 feet from any structure or combustible materials are allowed. Portable outdoor fireplaces, located 15 feet from any structure or combustible materials are allowed.

As of May 2, all current Santa Fe County burn permits will be suspended, along with the issuance of new permits, and open burning is prohibited within the county until further order of the Fire Marshal. Those found violating the order will be cited, the press release says.