Ute Park Fire burns over 36,660 acres; Rain gives boost to containment efforts

After thunderstorms crossed the site of the Ute Park Fire in northeastern New Mexico on Sunday and aided firefighting efforts, dry weather is on tap through midweek.

The fire, which is burning about 70 miles northeast of Santa Fe, has charred over 36,660 acres and destroyed buildings on the famed Philmont Scout Ranch.

Nearly 600 fire personnel are currently battling the blaze, which was at 25 percent containment as of late Monday evening, according to Inciweb.

Rain helped to prevent the fire from another day of rapid growth on Sunday and aided containment efforts, which had previously been unsuccessful, on the fire's southern and eastern flanks.

"Drier weather that returned Monday will hold through at least Wednesday," according to AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydynowski. "Breezes from the southwest are expected each afternoon of Tuesday and Wednesday."

Sunshine and low humidity will allow the vegetation to dry out quickly once again.

ute park fire 6/4/2018
ute park fire 6/4/2018

(Photo/New Mexico Department of Health)

Such winds could direct the smoke over other parts of northeastern New Mexico and neighboring Colorado, leading to poor air quality. Lighter winds at night may tend to confine the smoke and hazardous breathing conditions closer to the vicinity of the blaze.

The fire has rapidly grown since starting on Thursday, May 31.

As of Monday evening, the fire was still threatening over 200 residences in Ute Park, where evacuation orders were issued on Saturday night and remain in effect. The mandatory evacuation order for Cimarron, a community of 1,100 people, and surrounding areas was lifted on Monday.

Power was also restored to Ute Park on Monday evening.

Fortunately, no fatalities or injuries have been reported.

Static Ute 3 pm
Static Ute 3 pm

On the Philmont Scout Ranch, 14 structures were destroyed. The good news is that officials have currently deemed the area safe.

"We have gotten official word that base camp is safe and staff will be returning back to base [Sunday morning]," the ranch stated on its official website.

Philmont Scout Ranch is a destination that Boy Scouts from all across the country go to for high adventure and training. Scouts enjoy backpacking trips and a variety of other outdoor activities.

"More than 1 million Scouts, Venturers and leaders have experienced the adventure of Philmont since the first camping season in 1939," according to the ranch.

The Ute Park Fire is not the only blaze threatening lives and property across the Desert Southwest. There are six large wildfires burning across New Mexico and southwestern Colorado, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

The 416 fire has forced the evacuation of 1,500 people north of Durango, Colorado.

This fire started on Friday morning and has burned over 2,400 acres as of Monday evening, Inciweb reported. Firefighters have worked to contain 10 percent of the blaze.

Similar to around the Ute Park Fire, drier weather is forecast around the sites of the other blazes into midweek.

The area has been experiencing abnormally dry weather and is currently in an exceptional drought. This is one of several factors that led to a recent decision to close Santa Fe National Forest to all recreational activities, including the discovery of over 100 unattended campfires following Memorial Day celebrations. This was despite an official ban on all campfires that has been in place since early May.

"Under current conditions, one abandoned campfire could cause a catastrophic wildfire, and we are not willing to take that chance with the natural and cultural resources under our protection and care," Forest Supervisor James Melonas said in a statement.

The cause of the Ute Park and 416 fires remains under investigation.