New Mexico is Still Burning

Wildfire Sunset

Miracle of miracles, we got a bit of rain this week here in New Mexico. After months of drought – less than an inch of preciptation has fallen since January – on Tuesday the skies let loose, dropping more rain than I’ve ever seen fall at once in this desert.

To see if the rain had any effect on the wildfires still burning northwest of here, yesterday evening I hiked up to the mesa behind the off grid Earthship where I housesit in the winter. From up there I can see all the way across the Galisteo Basin to the Jemez Mountains, where the Los Conchas fire is still raging.

The Los Conchas fire, known outside New Mexico as the Los Alamos fire, has been burning since June 26 when high winds knocked an aspen down onto a powerline, sending off sparks and igniting what has grown into the largest wildfire in New Mexican history. To date, 150,000 acres have burned. No lives have been lost and Los Alamos was largely spared, but 63 homes have burned as well as 16,000 acres of land belonging to the Santa Clara Pueblo, much of it in the pueblo’s vital watershed.

The numbers are bad and looking across 25 miles of space to the Jemez, the plume looks as big and black as ever. Rain can certainly help dampen a wildfire, but once land has burned it’s vulnerable to flash flooding. The charred top layer of soil can’t absorb water well and without vegetation, water tends to run wild. Homeowners have to switch gears from fireproofing their houses to waterproofing them, piling sandbags and moving furniture and valuables to high ground. Rain or no rain, the Los Conchas fire is not out of the woods yet. But it does make for one hell of a sunset.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently based in western Colorado. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, skiing, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at
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3 Responses to New Mexico is Still Burning

  1. I was up in Pena Blanca yesterday and was amazed at how big that fire still is. We can’t see it well in Rio Rancho and I had minor surgery last week so hadn’t really been paying attention. Scary stuff. i wish it would rain…they keep saying the monsoons have started but i haven’t seen any. Love your blog!!! Thanks:)

    • I know! Even from a distance, this fire is overwhelming. I haven’t driven up that way to see the damage closeup yet. When I do, I’ll post photos on here for sure. Thanks for reading!

  2. Pingback: I ♥ Colorado « Travels with the Blonde Coyote

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