Hermits Peak Fire now 7,371 acres in size, 46% contained

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Hermits Peak Fire’s spread has slowed as a Type 1 team took command and helped improve containment Friday.

In an update from fire officials Saturday, the wildfire has burned 7,371 acres and is 46% contained. An improvement from Friday when reports showed it had burned 7,081 acres and was 33% contained.

Thursday’s reports showed it had burned 7,077 acres and was 10% contained, Wednesday’s reports showed the fire rapidly expanded to 6,276 acres from 1,908 acres Tuesday.

The Santa Fe National Forest’s Facebook page will be hosting a community meeting on the fire Friday at 8 p.m.

The Hermits Peak Fire is 12 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Firefighters have been battling the fire since April 6, when a prescribed burn got out of control due to erratic winds.

Sustained winds reached 50 to 60 MPH and gusts were up to 70 MPH Wednesday, which caused the fire to rapidly spread nearly six miles to the east and northeast. Winds calmed Thursday but a red flag warning remains in effect.

Firefighters were able to put defenses around the southern, eastern and northern edges of the fire to prevent the fire from spreading to nearby communities, including north of the Sapello River corridor. However, anticipated strong winds are expected to increase activity on all sides of the fire.

520 firefighters are battling the fire and it is believed over 100 firefighters were assigned to a full nightshift that will ensure 24/7 coverage over the fire area.

The spread activated the Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team 1 – a top-level team trained in addressing large-scale fires – to take over the firefight. The team is set to bring in additional resources and management capabilities to fully suppress the fire.

As of Thursday, officials said residents should evacuate from the following areas:

Las Dispensas, Pendaries Village, San Ignacio, Las Tusas, Lone Pine Mesa, Canoncito, La Canada, Manuelitas, Lower Canyon Road in Gallinas Canyon and La Tewa, Chavez, County A3, Southwest Sapello, and Southern Tierra Monte-Canyon

Residents in the following areas should also be prepared to potentially evacuate:

Upper Rociada, Rociada, Pendaries Valley East, Penasco Blanco, South Carmen, Northern Tierra Monte-Canyon, Big Pine, Canovas Canyon, El Porvenir, Gallinas, and Trout Springs, Northeast and Southeast Sapello and Los Alamitos.

The Santa Fe National Forest released an update on the fire Friday morning, detailing the personnel’s progress. The national forest also published an updated map detailing the fire.

Amid the rapid spread and red flag conditions, burn permits have also been temporarily banned in Santa Fe County until further notice.

Julie Anne Overton with the Santa Fe National Forest says the fire’s location of it is making it harder for those crews.

"It’s a very challenging situation,” Overton said. “That’s why we are relying on aviation resources to a great deal."

This isn’t the only prescribed burn turned wildfire this week in New Mexico. It happened in Chaves County with the Overflow Fire near Roswell.

These fires are bringing back troubling memories of the devastating Cerro Grande Fire in 2000. Hundreds of homes were destroyed with about 50,000 acres burned because of a National Park Service prescribed burn that went wrong because of wind and drought conditions in Los Alamos. The federal agency came to New Mexico after that disaster apologizing and promising nothing like Cerro Grande would happen again.

These new fires have many asking, did we learn our lesson with prescribed burns?

Overton says crews follow a set of criteria before starting a controlled burn.

"From the national weather service before we do a prescribed burn, we get a spot forecast and it is very specific to that site and everything was well within the prescription window," Overton said.

Overton added that on the day of the burn, erratic wind happened and spread the embers creating the wildfire.

When KOB 4 asked if those criteria should be readjusted, Overton said, "This work is critically important, but it’s also there is an element of risk."

Overton also said that 99% of these prescribed burns are successful and it’s very rare for one to turn into a wildfire.

Fire managers at the Santa Fe National Forest decided to postpone a prescribed burn, previously announced for the Santa Fe Municipal Watershed on the Española Ranger District.

Report from Tuesday:

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