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.

Fire underburns in Ponderosa Pine along monument road.

Bandelier Conducts First Prescribed Fire Since 2000

Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico

Every journey starts with the first step and so it was with Bandelier National Monument when they conducted their first prescribed burn since 2000. Even though the Unit 40 Prescribed Fire was postponed after the first day due to poor burning conditions, it was still considered a success for Bandelier's fire program which has had to start anew after the Cerro Grande incident six years ago.

In May of 2000, a planned prescribed fire ignited by the Bandelier fire staff escaped containment and became the Cerro Grande Wildland Fire. This 40,000+ acre fire destroyed over 240 homes in nearby Los Alamos and damaged public and private lands on an unprecedented scale. The fallout from this escaped prescribed fire was one of the main factors that initiated the 2000 National Fire Plan which changed fire policy across the nation. It also temporarily grounded the prescribed fire program at Bandelier.

Since that incident, the entire staff at Bandelier has worked diligently to reestablish some of the connections with local residences, including many who lost homes or property. One of the most important things they established was the educational and informational outreach programs that were instituted in the years following 2000. Public meetings, open houses, meetings with local organizations, media interviews, news releases, presentations and handouts were all instrumental in regaining the public's support after the Cerro Grande incident. The local public remains very supportive of the efforts by the fire management staff to revive and renew their prescribed fire program.

The Unit 40 prescribed fire is the first one at Bandelier National Monument since the Cerro Grande Fire of 2000.

The Unit 40 prescribed fire was ignited using drip torches.

Bandelier also worked very closely with their interagency partners in getting their prescribed fire program back on line. These partners include the Santa Fe National Forest, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the State of New Mexico. These agencies formed the Interagency Wildfire Management Team which serves to identify, discuss and coordinate issues pertaining to wildfire mitigation and management in the Los Alamos area. The cooperation of these agencies is vital to the successful operation of all their fire programs, including Bandelier's.

Therefore, it was with great excitement and cautious optimism that Bandelier's fire management staff began ignition of the 563 acre Unit 40 Prescribed Fire on Thursday, November 9, 2006. Interagency firefighters, fire managers, fire engines and associated support from throughout the local area were called in to assist with the burn. Many of the staff at Bandelier also supported the prescribed fire efforts. Once resources were in place, firefighters began the project with a test fire within the burn unit to observe its behavior. The test fire was not very successful, as sparse fuels would not carry the fire. Crews waited for the humidity to drop and the winds to pick up slightly as were predicted in the spot weather forecast. Unfortunately, even when these predicted weather conditions were present, the fuels would still not carry the fire enough to meet the Prescribed Fire Plan's objectives. Approximately 80 acres were burned in the unit with mixed results. Fire managers then decided to postpone the burn until the future when the conditions would allow for objectives to be met. Crews spent the next day securing the firelines and burning some of the heaver fuels that were left in the burn unit.

Even though this first prescribed fire in the monument since 2000 was not quite successful from an objectives point of view and had to be postponed, it was still considered an overall success. This prescribed fire will get Bandelier's fire program back on track and allow them to be able to carry on the policy of using fire as management tool to help perpetuate the resource values for which the monument was established.

Contact: David Eaker, Fire Communication and Education Specialist
Phone: (435) 772-7811