Smoke from NM fire still visible in Valley


VALLEY — Smoke from a northern New Mexico fire is still visible to San Luis Valley residents, as the Bonita Fire concludes its third week of burning lands administered by the Carson National Forest on the El Rito Ranger District.

The fire began with a lightning strike in Bonita Canyon on June 3 and has burned more than 7,200 acres. As of Wednesday, the fire was only 50 percent contained.

Personnel working the fire numbered 358 on Wednesday.

Firefighters have been conducting burnout operations along the edges of the fire planning area, igniting grasses, brush and other vegetation in attempt to slow fire growth. Increased smoke has been visible as a result of these strategic ignitions.

Wednesday morning, smoke generated from Tuesday’s burnout operations settled in Vallecitos Canyon and Ojo Caliente. The highest concentration of smoke occurs around sunrise and disperses as temperatures increase throughout the day. The amount of smoke is expected to diminish each day now that a significant amount of fuel is no longer available to the fire.

On Wednesday crews continued to secure the southwestern edge near Cañon Plaza using controlled hand ignitions to remove excess fuels from the area. Crews will continue to patrol and monitor the areas surrounding the fire to ensure the perimeter is secure.

The New Mexico Department of Health advises those residents affected by the smoke, including individuals with respiratory or heart disease, adults over age 65, young children, and pregnant women, to relocate until the air quality improves.

A clean air shelter was opened Tuesday with Red Cross staffing at the Abiquiu Rural Events Center but closed on Wednesday, as no one came to the shelter and air quality monitoring data showed a reduction in smoke impacts.

The air quality monitor at Cañon Plaza shows that conditions may be unhealthy for sensitive groups; however the general public is not likely to be affected. This condition is an improvement from past days, in which air quality was considered very unhealthy or hazardous. Residents with sensitivities in the affected area are encouraged to close their windows overnight until smoke lifts in the morning.

A closure order for lands within the boundaries of the Bonita Fire Area remains in effect until further notice. Contact the El Rito Ranger District at (575) 581-4554.

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