The Associated Press
SANTA FE — A federal wildfire response team is recommending that the popular recreation area of Pecos Canyon remain closed to the public for two years because of hazards from recent major wildfires in the Santa Fe National Forest.
The federal Burned Area Emergency Response team concludes that Pecos Canyon east of Santa Fe will be at high risk of erosion, hazardous debris and flash flooding due to potential runoff from slopes burned by the Tres Lagunas and Jaroso fires, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported Monday.
The team’s initial assessment is that people are at risk of injury or death due to flash flooding or falling trees.
Forest officials said Friday they were keeping forest closures in place while officials study fire impacts.
In Pecos Canyon, residents are waiting to see effects of summer storms that rumble overhead every afternoon.
Some are piling up sandbags. Others are trying to gauge ways to divert sediment, ash and burned logs away from the Pecos River as heavy rains wash the debris down drainage channels.
“It is a fact that it is going to happen,” said Eric Roybal, fire chief for the Pecos Canyon Volunteer Fire Department.
“We’re looking at flooding issues for the next two or three years. They’re talking about the possibility of some extreme flooding, to the point some of the bridges and culverts on N.M. 63 could be damaged.”
The Tres Lagunas fire burned both sides of the canyon in an area where Kelly Shannon and his son Brian own property.
“If everything that looks like it could die, does die, it will be an enormous amount of damage. But right now it doesn’t look so bad,” Kelly Shannon said.
Along with endangering people, peak flows are likely to damage homes, roads, culverts and bridges near the river.
Pecos Canyon resident Kay Rice said the river rose approximately 3 feet within an hour beginning at noon Saturday.
Rain also fell Sunday, leaving the Pecos River black with ash.
Crews are removing hazardous trees and installing closure signs and gates to keep the public out of flood zones. The Forest Service is hiring contractors to seed and apply straw mulch to the most severely burned areas.