The U.S. Forest Service issued an order closing the Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands within the Mount Taylor, Mountainair and Sandia Ranger Districts at 8 a.m. Thursday. The order runs through July 18 or until the order is rescinded. However, the New Mexico Fire Information website says the order is in effect until Dec. 21 or until rescinded.
The U.S. Forest Service website says, “Fire danger remains extreme with record conditions only expected to worsen over the foreseeable future. The closure will be rescinded after significant moisture has been received and overall conditions improve.”
Albuquerque Open Space, including the Elena Gallegos Picnic Area, is still open to the public. The Elena Gallegos Picnic Area and other public spaces in the Sandia Foothills have trails that lead into the Cibola National Forest Sandia Ranger District. At around noon Thursday, there were no signs warning hikers of the closure where Pino Trail crosses into the Cibola National Forest, although there are fire restriction warnings at the forest entrance and at the open space entrance.
According to nmfireinfo.com, individuals can be fined up to $5,000 and organizations $10,000 if caught violating the Forest Service order. Those exempt to the order include: persons with a written Forest Service authorization specifically exempting them from the effect of the order; any federal, state or local officer or member of an organized rescue or firefighting force in the performance of an official duty as approved by the district ranger; or residents using roads in the restricted area to the extent necessary to access their private property.
There is no indication the city will close the open spaces in the Sandia Foothills or where there is access to the national forest anytime soon. Permanent fire restrictions in the Albuquerque Open Space areas include the prohibition of using an open flame, campfire or stove, smoking, possessing or discharging fireworks, and operating spark-emitting equipment, among other restrictions.
According to the National Weather Service Albuquerque, “Strong west to southwest winds will return through Friday. Widespread critical fire weather is also likely with very low humidity and near-record heat.” Albuquerque had above-normal to near-record high temperatures on Thursday, but a sharp cool down will arrive late Friday into Saturday with highs on Sunday expected to reach 79.
A red flag warning is in effect for the entire state and will remain in effect until 10 p.m. May 19. Another red flag warning will go into effect at 10 a.m. May 20, ending at 9 p.m. Albuquerque can expect a moderate smoke outlook throughout the day Friday. A moderate outlook means “unusually sensitive individuals should consider limiting prolonged or heavy exertion.”