EL MALPAIS NATIONAL MONUMENT – On Friday El Malpais National Monument personnel reported they were managing a 25-acre lightning caused-fire known as the West Fire to improve the malpais ecology and prevent catastrophic fires in the future.
This fire started from a lightning strike on July 5, but remained inactive and was not detected until July 9. Since then it has been monitored by the monument staff on a daily basis.
The West Fire is in a remote wilderness portion of the monument about one mile south of the Ice Cave property. According to Fire Management Officer Andy Bundshuh, this fire is burning exactly how nature intends fires to burn. It is a low intensity understory burn which is cleaning up the accumulated surface fuels such as down wood and logs, pine needles, aspen leaves and duff. When these fuels are naturally reduced it prevents a fire from gaining enough intensity to become a threat not only to the environment but to human developments as well, Bundshuh explained.
The West Fire is different than a management-ignited prescribed fire or a wildfire. It is considered a Wildland Fire for resources benefit because it was started naturally by lightning. Utilizing a naturally ignited fire allows monument managers to reduce heavy fuel accumulations and restore fires natural cycle in the malpais ecosystem to maintain forest health.
El Malpais National Monument is one of several National Park Service (NPS) units which have Wildland Fire Use authorized in its Fire Management Plan. Utilizing natural fire events such as lightning-caused fires in remote wilderness areas is just one of the many ways the NPS can efficiently manage natural resources.
A Wildland Fire Use fire can burn for long periods of time, and the monument has brought in a Wildland Fire Use Manager (FUMA) to oversee the management of this fire. The monument expects the upcoming monsoon season to end this fires spread. With current fuel conditions and the reduction in local fire danger, resource managers at the monument are really pleased with the results they are seeing from natures own way of reducing hazardous fuels buildup.
Monument Superintendent Kayci Cook Collins said that the public should expect to see some smoke from this fire from County Road 42 or along NM Highway 53. For further information on this incident or Wildland Fire Use contact Fire Management Officer, Andy Bundshuh at (505) 285-4641, extension 14.