Sandoval Signpost


An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Public Safety

Photo credit: —U. S. Forest Service

Lightning started the Pino Fire in the Jemez Mountains last August, and the U.S. Forest Service managed it for weeks to improve habitat and reduce wildfire risks.

Fall brings planned burns to public land

—Bill Diven

When land managers ignite a fire to reduce threats or improve habitat, they don’t just stick a dampened finger into the air to see which way the smoke will blow.

There’s science and planning behind smoke management, with a fine line between wind speeds good for dispersing smoke and those dangerous for fire crews on the ground. Regardless, smoke will be in the air; fall and winter can offer ideal conditions for prescribed burning in national forests and other public lands.

Even without a repeat of the giant wildfires of recent years, smoke became an issue in August and September after lightning sparked the Pino Fire in the Jemez Mountains. Rather than extinguish the ground-hugging flames, the U. S. Forest Service managed the fire as it burned across 4,300 acres, reducing fuels that could drive a destructive blaze through the watershed above Ponderosa, New Mexico.

That led to smoke filling the Rio Grande valley with a noticeable haze and odor in Placitas. One hunter called the Signpost complaining his permit was useless because smoke in the forest was too thick to see game.

The decision to let the fire burn, however, was not just up to USFS, which is party to the New Mexico Environment Department’s Smoke Management Program. “The state has set levels of what is permitted and what is not based on good dispersion,” Joshua Hall, USFS air and water quality specialist, told the Signpost. “Any government entity outside tribal lands planning a burn has to comply,” he added.

On the ground, the moisture content of live and dead fuels is a main consideration in whether or not to burn. In the air, it’s all about ventilation.

“Ventilation is about the height of the atmosphere fluctuating during the day with high and low pressure,” Hall said. “The other thing is transport winds, transport times… That gives you a box. The bigger the box, the more room to put smoke into it.” With a small box, the smoke may not leave the area, and then you have problems, he added.

“We can run smoke models, likely impacts, to try to guide people on when it’s a good time to burn and when it’s not,” Hall continued. “We often postpone because there won’t be good smoke dispersion.”

Smoke monitors also are set up around fires, and fire managers monitor the weather for changes in conditions.

“Every prescription burn may be a little different,” Hall said. “For certain fuels types you may want higher winds. If you’re in the pines, you might want to limit that. The rule of thumb is surface winds not greater than ten to 15 mph… That’s where extra care is needed to balance firefighter safety with smoke management.”

While smoke from wildfires and planned burns can trigger official health alerts, the state Department of Health and other agencies promote the “Five-three-one Visibility Method” to determine the level of risk based on how far you can see through the smoke:

  • Five miles—Seniors, young children, pregnant women and anyone with asthma, or respiratory, heart or lung disease should limit outdoor activity.
  • Three miles—Those groups should stay indoors, while healthy adults, teens and older children limit outdoor activities.
  • One mile—Everyone stays indoors.

Late in October, the Santa Fe National Forest was planning to burn slash piles spread across three hundred acres in the Jemez Mountains near Sierra de Los Pinos south of State Route 4 and southeast of Jemez Falls Campground. Known as the Los Griegos Burn, the fires were tentatively planned for October 23 through October 31, depending on weather conditions. Smoke was expected to be visible from La Cueva to Rio Rancho.

In the coming months, the Jemez Ranger District lists possible prescribed burns in the areas of Thompson Ridge, Las Conchas Meadows, Fenton Lake and the Virgin wildland-urban interface.

In the Cibola National Forest the Sandia Ranger District was planning a burn in David Canyon east of State Route 337 about eight miles south of Tijeras. The Mount Taylor District planned three burns totaling more than 1,900 acres in the Zuni Mountains to clear slash from tree thinning, reduce other fuels and improve habitat.

“Elephant trap” soon to get a fix.

Problem culvert getting extra attention

—Bill Diven

Work on a culvert that raised safety concerns on Camino de las Huertas has been delayed, as the project grows larger than first planned.

The culvert about a mile north of State Route 165 shrinks the traffic lane by several inches and creates an unexpected drop off when the shoulder suddenly ends. The location at Pine-D Ranch Road already is difficult as the lane is on a downgrade entering a rock cut where uphill traffic is not visible.

“There’s no wiggle room,” Michelle Riley told the Signpost last month, adding that she was afraid that when winter weather slickens the troublesome piece of road, some driver could easily drop a tire into the hole.

After the Signpost relayed Riley’s concern to Sandoval County, Public Works Director Tommy Mora dispatched a road crew to investigate and reported cobblestone would be placed around the opening to make it safer. That was to be done by about October 1.

But the department’s engineer then took a look at the problem and didn’t like the original solution.

“He is recommending we extend the culvert and add material,” Mora told the Signpost. “We are currently getting pricing for the culvert. This will be put on the schedule as soon we acquire the culvert extension.”

So for now, and as always, take it easy driving around Placitas.

Police Officer Haase dies in car crash

—Peter L. Wells, Chief Communications Officer and Assistant to the City Manager, City of Rio Rancho

During the early morning hours of October 26, 2014, Rio Rancho Police Officer Anthony Haase was involved in a single-vehicle crash on Idalia Road, and died as a result. The following statement is from Rio Rancho Mayor Greggory D. Hull on the death of Officer Anthony Haase:

“The death of Officer Haase while in the line of duty is deeply saddening. The city of Rio Rancho mourns the loss of this dedicated law enforcement public servant, and extends its heartfelt condolences to Officer Haase’s loved ones. I urge community members to keep Officer Haase’s family in their thoughts and prayers and to reflect on the dedication of the brave men and women who risk their lives daily to keep Rio Rancho safe.”

Specific details of the crash are under investigation and will be released by the Police Department Public Information Office when available.

Police Chief Vigil retires, welcomes Interim Chief Mangiacapra

—Scott Kominiak, Mayor, Village of Corrales

Police Chief Ray Vigil will retire from The Village of Corrales on October 31, after 36 years of loyal service to the community and 12 years of leadership of the Corrales Police Department. While we will miss his steady on-duty presence, he is eager to enjoy his well deserved retirement and time with his family.

Under Chief Vigil, Corrales has had one of the lowest crime rates in the state and has been a leader in drug enforcement efforts in the region. Vigil is a veteran of the armed forces, having served in Vietnam as a Sergeant in the Army. He began his public safety career with the Military Police Training in 1966.

I have appointed Victor Mangiacapra as Interim Chief in anticipation of permanent assignment at the end of the year. Mangiacapra brings over 26 years policing experience, including stints in the Farmington Police Department and New York’s. He has served as Captain of the Corrales Police Department for the last seven years.

His philosophy of increased community policing includes improved public information and involvement. The department is uniquely challenged with small department issues while situated between the largest cities in New Mexico. We are confident that Victor Mangiacapra has the ability to lead the department through all challenges.

We congratulate both men on their accomplishments and wish them the best in their new roles.

Sandia Ranger District Fuel Wood Program closed for the season

—Sandia Ranger District

As of September 29, the Sandia Ranger District fuel wood area in David Canyon is closed for the season. The area where the wood has been removed will be treated with fire after October 20.

Prescribed burning next to the wildland urban interface has been part of the Sandia Ranger District for over twenty years. The process of burning next to homes is very methodical. The parameters for implementing a prescribed burn are based upon specific assessments, agency guidelines, and safety protocols. During a prescribed burn, managers continuously monitor weather conditions, including wind, temperature, and relative humidity. Fuel conditions, including fuel moisture and the quantity of fuels, are also measured.

Smoke will be visible and expected to have variable affects to neighboring communities. Every effort is made to minimize smoke impacts, but some impacts can be expected. All prescribed fires are coordinated with the City of Albuquerque Air Quality Division. Smoke from prescribed fires is considerably less, and of a shorter duration, than smoke from wildfires. Smoke-sensitive individuals and people with respiratory problems are urged to stay indoors, with windows and doors closed, when smoke is present. We are working in cooperation with Bernalillo County Fire Departments, New Mexico State Forestry, Santa Fe County Fire Department, and the Albuquerque Fire Department. Should you have any questions or concerns, contact the Sandia Ranger District at 281-3304.

Wildland fire smoke workshop

—Allison Sandoval

If you have ever wondered: “What’s up with that wildland fire smoke in the air?” a new workshop that looks at wildfire smoke management might give you the answers you’re looking for.

The Southwest Fire Science Consortium and the Association for Fire Ecology are sponsoring a first-of-its-kind wildland fire smoke workshop entitled: Smoke in the Air—What does it mean to me? The workshop will take place in Albuquerque on November 6 through November 8, and members of the public are strongly encouraged to attend.

The intent of the workshop is to bring citizens, fire managers, and science together in an interactive environment, to build understanding and to talk about the various facets of wildland fire smoke management

Included in the two-and-a-half-day program are sessions related to ecology and technical tools, health, and communications, and public participation and input.

For more information or to register, visit the Southwest Fire Science Consortium website: or email questions to Barb Satink Wolfson at

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