The Little Bear fire caused the closure of State Highway 48 near Alto, June 9. Mark Wilson Photo
Firefighters continued successful burnout operations along the west side of the Little Bear fire, which as of Thursday had consumed 42,995 acres and was 60 percent contained.
Rico Smith, fire information officer, said firefighters throughout the week have removed a significant portion of the unburned fuel that existed on the west side, the most active area of the fire. “We’re taking unburned fuel and doing back-burning toward the head of the fire to basically take away the fuel for containment. So we’ve made really great progress throughout the week.
“… And the only area right now where we’re working on containing is on that west side. So we want to complete this burnout operation, and that will raise the containment figures up considerably. They expect to complete the burnout operation (Thursday), and that containment figure will go up.”
Smith said Thursday morning brought 52 percent humidity and mild winds from the south and southwest, which has helped suppression efforts.
“Basically, the wind is blowing toward the fire itself, so as we conduct that burnout operation, we’re taking that fire right to the head of the main fire.
“… And we have more moisture in the air, higher humidity and lower temperatures, so that’s going to slow the spread of the fire. It’s going to continue to creep, but it’s going to do it at a much slower rate. So we really have good conditions for the firefighters.”
Smith said the reason the size of the Little Bear fire has increased by a few thousand acres this week is due largely to the burnout operations throughout the week.
On the north, south and east sides of the fire, crews continued mop-up, patrol and rehabilitation Thursday, and were also interacting with the public as many return to their property or homes, Smith said.
The Little Bear fire is responsible for the destruction of 242 residential and commercial structures and 12 outbuildings, with damages estimated at more than $22 million.
Dan Ware, New Mexico Forestry Division spokesman, said that while the large loss of property is tragic, the figures should not overshadow all those who worked to ensure that residents were safe. “I think the bigger picture here is that nobody lost their life in this, and there were no serious injuries. So if there’s anything good that can be taken from this, it’s that.
“I think it’s a real testament to the folks who live in that area being prepared to evacuate when necessary. A lot of credit goes to them for the orderly fashion of the evacuation that took place, and a lot of credit goes to local law enforcement for helping facilitate that evacuation and making sure it ran smoothly and safely.
“I think a lot of times, when you have a fire like this — or any time you have a wildfire — local law enforcement sometimes gets overlooked when it comes time to thank those who participated. We can’t say enough about the job that not just the firefighters do, but all the other emergency response personnel.”
For information about emergency assistance, contact the American Red Cross in New Mexico at 800-560-2302. Donations can be made at RedCrossNewMexico.org or wffoundation.org.