El Malpais Fire Managers Successfully Manage the Thirty Six Fire for Multiple Objectives

The Thirty Six Fire, a lightning ignited wildfire, was detected on July 25, 2016. Likely a holdover from the previous evenings round of thunderstorms, the location of the start was in the park’s current thinning project area, a cut and pile unit. Fire managers were planning on conducting a broadcast prescribed fire in 2017 to reduce the piles as well as the grass, needle cast and small trees within the unit. Implementation of the prescribed fire would also reduce the threat to a community in close proximity to the park boundary and introduce fire into the fire adapted Ponderosa Pine ecosystem that had not had a fire in many years. The decision was made to manage the natural start to help meet the same objectives as the planned prescribed burn and keep the fire within the pre-determined prescribed fire unit. 

Firefighter walks along the fireline, using a handheld driptorch to conduct a burnout operation.
NPS firefigher Murt Sullivan conducting burn out operations on day four of the Thirty Six Fire.

NPS Photo

Fire growth was slow on the first two days as high relatively humidity values, partly overcast skies and evening showers inhibited fire growth. On the third day the skies were clear, fuels were drying out, and wind approximately 7-8 mph in the afternoon allowed the fire to grow to approximately 15 acres. Due to the increased fire activity, the park contacted local federal cooperators, the Zuni Tribe, which sent a Type 6 engine, and the Bureau of Land Management, which sent a five person squad. These resources provided point source protection of a private structure just outside the unit and directly downwind from the fire. Day four was spent securing the perimeter between two roads on the north end of the fire and conducting a small burn out operation to further secure the lines on the south end.

The burned area stops within the park, right next to a fence at the park boundary.
The fire helped reduce fuels near the park boundary which will help protect the local community in the future.

NPS photo

The forecast for day five for an expected wind shift to a more southerly flow. The crew conducted a burnout operation along the remaining perimeter to secure the north end, then burned out remaining interior islands.

The fire helped reduce fuels near the park boundary which will help protect the local community in the future (NPS photo)

All operations went well. By successfully managing the lightning start, fire managers at El Malpais National Monument now have a toe hold in the area with reduced ground fuels that can be utilized when there is a fire in the area that is not meeting resource objectives or that may threaten the community in the area. The thinning project, which will further reduce fuel loading, will continue this season with the goal of burning the piles during the winter months.

Contact: Kevin Parrish, Fire Management Officer

Email: kevin_parrish@nps.gov

Phone: (505) 285-4641 x 35