After the Wildfire-Hidden Dangers

White Fire BAER Team news release -April 11, 2011 Drought-like conditions and gusty winds provided perfect conditions for a devastating wildfire in Lincoln County New Mexico on April 3rd, 2011. The fire was reported at approximately 1:30 on Sunday afternoon. Local fire resources quickly responded to the blaze located just east of the village of Ruidoso and north of Ruidoso Downs.

Hastily dubbed the “White Fire”, flames roared northeast, fueled by gusty winds. A peaceful Sunday afternoon quickly erupted into panic and chaos as fire spread through the piñon-juniper canyons north of Highway 70 and the Rio Ruidoso. The Village of Ruidoso Downs was dangerously close to the south flank of the fire. Humans and livestock were quickly evacuated. Additional fire resources were ordered, including a Type 2 Incident Management Team. Within hours, the fire consumed everything in its path. The aftermath revealed the loss of five homes and numerous outbuildings. Over the next few days, more than 10,000 acres were burned, including 9,608 acres of National Forest and 753 acres of municipal and private lands.

News coverage was abundant – the governor visited and everyone watched anxiously as fire containment percentages increased.

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Television images of advancing flames and blackened landscapes remind us of the destructive force of wildfires. As time passes, images fade. Then, weeks or months later, precipitation falls, promoting erosion and flooding. Recreation visitors are sometimes caught unaware; perhaps several miles away from the old burn area. Tragedy strikes and we are once again reminded of the forces of nature as news images portray death and destruction


The “fire-flood cycle” is a phenomenon recognized throughout the west. It results from the loss of vegetation in the water runoff areas (watersheds) to the subsequent rapid runoff and increased sediment being washed downstream. It is one of the hidden threats remaining long after the flames have died down. It is also a phenomenon that will be assessed by the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Team.

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How hot did the fire burn? Can burned soils promote re-vegetation? Was wildlife displaced? Will it come back? Were archaeological sites damaged? What will happen when rains come? Is it safe for me to visit the fire area? These are common concerns after a wildfire. These are questions to be answered by the BAER Team, a team of natural resource specialists assigned to provide a rapid assessment of post-wildfire threats to life, property and natural and cultural resources. The White Fire BAER Team arrived in Ruidoso late last week. The team consists of hydrologists, soil scientists, Geographic Information System (GIS) specialists, archaeologists, botanists, wildlife specialists, road engineers, range scientists, and foresters. They will identify “values at risk” and assess how monsoon rains may affect watershed, fire damage and fire suppression tactics. Mitigation measures may include, but are not limited to: heli-mulching, seeding, straw wattles, installation of safety signage, culvert cleanout/replacement, and/or area closures.

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BAER team leader Mike Natharius said he anticipates the assessment will be completed next week. Findings will be presented to the Lincoln National Forest with recommended treatments. Natharius emphasized, “Although treatments may be implemented on the White fire, areas below the burned area are still likely to experience increased sedimentation and high flows”.


The White Fire BAER Team is headquartered at the Smokey Bear Ranger District in Ruidoso and welcomes collaboration with other agencies and local officials.