Staging 1,000 firefighters at Estancia High School

Fire remains quiet Monday as meeting gets underway

The black line is where the fire is contained. Photo by Leota Harriman.

6:30 p.m. A small city was erected at Estancia High School, with everything from internet to mobile catering to internet access all brought in to support the firefighting effort as the Dog Head Fire enters its seventh day.

At 7 p.m. today, an informational meeting will be held at the Moriarty Civic Center to update people on the current status of the fire.

Dorotea Martinez is public information officer for the Southwest Incident Command. She gave The Independent a tour of the staging area.

Martinez is here from the Carson National Forest in Taos.

About 15 people have been manning a phone bank at the location, which also serves as a central check-in for firefighters here from around the West. Paperwork, which must be shared with the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and State Forestry, to make sure those here working the blaze get paid.

People working at the command center also keep track of fire behavior and weather as they assess what will be happening with the fire in coming days.

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Mess hall for fire crews staging at Estancia High School. Photo by Leota Harriman.

Fire crews have established a tent city, and are working in two shifts, a day shift and a night shift, Martinez said.

Briefings are held for firefighters at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., before shifts change, so that crews going into the fire know what happened in the past 12 hours and what to expect. Those two information releases are the only times new containment numbers will be released to the public.

Martinez said smoke is down on the fire because it has cooled. A line is all the way around the fire. “I think they finally got a handle on that yesterday,” Martinez said, adding that crews are now working on mop-up to put out hot spots in the fire.

The most active area of the fire today has been along the eastern boundaries of it, she said, with heavy mop-up in that area. “We’re working really hard to make sure it doesn’t cross 337. We’ve been working hard to make sure it doesn’t make that push.”

Those bulldozer and hand lines are areas where vegetation has been removed down to bare soil, leaving no fuel for the fire to burn.

Other support includes fire personnel who do things like mop floors and clean toilets, jobs that are necessary to support the number of people now in town.

Semi trucks for catering are set up onsite, as are showers. All of the maps online and the information going out on Facebook and other social media originate at the command center, too, Martinez said.

Part of the command center is a team of fire analyst and meteorologist.

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Fire analyst Stewart Turner’s station at the command center at Estancia High School. Photo by Leota Harriman.

Today was one of our breezier days we’ve had since the big wind days,” said meteorologist Brent Wachter. “It’s actually pushing towards the west-northwest. Over the next couple days, wind speeds are a little lower and we’ll get more of that southwest orientation, which would push it back to northeast.”

Wachter said Wednesday some dry thunderstorms could move in, and said on Thursday people will notice storms.

That humidity will help with firefighting efforts, said fire analyst Stewart Turner.

Asked about fire behavior predictions in the area north and east of the fire, Turner said along 337 the fire is looking pretty good and said the team is “pretty confident” that the fire is reasonably in hand in the area to the northwest and not likely to spread there.

“Along the eastern flank there’s a lot of long, narrow fingers and that’s giving us some trouble. The area there is not such an easy one to get into, and get out of,” Turner said. “They’re also in there working very hard with dozers and hand crews. In the next few days we’ll be upping our containment numbers with mop up.”

Conditions that would be bad news for people north would be back to extremely dry humidity, hot temperatures in the 90s and wind speed of 10 to 20 miles per hour. “That would be bad,” Turner said.