Fire Stories

Fire stories from the national parks highlight events, incidents, and the like, associated with fire and fuels management, as well as fire education, technology, partnerships, and more. Stories highlight work related to Department of the Interior initiatives as well as local and regional initiatives.

flat landscape witj fire in the distance

The Loop Fire threatened park structures.

No Structures Destroyed During Loop Fire

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Cohesive Strategy—Response to Wildfire*

On June 13, 2011 around 2:30 pm, a report came in about a fire on the Walnut Canyon Scenic Loop Road within Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Employees from Carlsbad Caverns, neighboring Guadalupe Mountains National Park, the local BLM district office, and Eddy County responded immediately in an attempt to contain the blaze. At the time, the fire was about three miles from the visitor center and heading in the direction of the main entrance road and other park facilities. Vegetation was tinder dry and easy to ignite because the park had not received any measurable precipitation for the past eight months and had baked under the hot New Mexico sun.

wildland fire hoses
exterior of building and desert landscape

Top and Bottom: Defensible space helped protect employee housing and the park's newly renovated visitor center. NPS photos

Pushed by a hot, dry wind, the Loop Fire spread rapidly. By 3:30 pm, park management announced the park was closing and visitors were directed to leave. By 4:00 pm, visitors, employees, park residents, and backcountry users were evacuated. The gateway businesses/community of Whites City was also evacuated.

Meanwhile with the wildfire advancing, a coordinated effort was initiated to begin burnout operations and fire fighters and park staff stretched firehoses throughout the housing, maintenance, historic areas, and visitor center for structure protection. Fire fighting resources including volunteer and paid fire engines, aerial resources, and crews from around the region responded quickly. At 10:00 pm the Pecos Zone Type 3 (Eddie Tudor, IC) incident management team took over management of the fire.

Previous fuels treatments including prescribed burns along the Loop road and Firewise clearing around structures enabled fire management personnel to protect life, safety and property. The fire burned around the park's housing, maintenance, and historic district and renovated visitor center. Only the roof of an isolated outbuilding was partially burned.

The Loop Fire burned in Carlsbad Caverns National Park from June 13-16, 2011 in steep, rugged terrain. The environment consisted of Chihuahuan desert type fuels included juniper, brush, sotol, yucca, and grass. The cause of the fire is under investigation. The fire ultimately grew to 30,438 acres (8,261 acres within Carlsbad Caverns National Park, 13,960 acres on land managed by Bureau of Land Management, and 8,200 acres on state or private lands).

Cooperators included Boles Acres Volunteer Fire Department (VFD), Happy Valley VFD, Hondo VFD, Joel VFD, Loving VFD, and Otis VFD, Eddy County, Lincoln County, San Juan County, US Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, New Mexico State Forestry Division, and the Bureau of Land Management. Private landowner Joe D. Jenkins and Whites City also provided water, land access, and other support.

After the fire was declared out, a Burned Area Emergency Response team made recommendations that the park continue to implement mitigation of flash flooding concerns. While the fire changed the park's landscape dramatically, signs of re-growth show that nature will heal the area rapidly.

Contact: John Montoya, Fire Management Officer
Phone: (915) 828-3251 x2801

*This story supports Department of the Interior initiatives.