Early Wildfires in New Mexico

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Wildfire season in New Mexico and Arizona historically has started around late May and early June. Wildfires in these states are driven by drier climatic conditions that lower vegetation moisture levels.

An Earlier Start to the Fire Season in New Mexico

This year, wildfire season in New Mexico started earlier with several large fires starting in mid to late April that continue to burn into early May.

Warmer climatic conditions along with high winds, low humidity, and abnormally dry tinder—in the form of grass, brush, and timber—have sparked the fires, which are being intensified by the available fuel. As of May 3, 2022, 100% of New Mexico is experiencing abnormally low or drought conditions with 98.94% of the state at some level of drought per the U.S. Drought Monitor.

With rising temperatures in New Mexico linked to climate change, snow melts faster, more water evaporates into the sky, and grasses and other fuels dry out earlier.

Large Wildfires in 2022 in New Mexico

An aerial view of a wildfire in New Mexico.
An aerial view of the wildfire on Hermits Peak, New Mexico on April 10, 2022. Photo: Inciweb.gov, public domain.

The Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak are two wildfires located east of Santa Fe that merged on April 22-23, 2022 to become one of the largest wildfires on record for New Mexico. The Calf Canyon fits started April 19 and the Hermits Peak fire started April 6. As of May 5, 2022, the Calf Canyon-Hermits Peak complex fire had burned 165,276 Acres and was only 20% contained.

The Hermits Peak fire started as a prescribed fire in the Santa Fe National Forest but grew out of control after gusty winds.

The Cerro Pelado fire located west of Santa Fe ignited on April 22 and has burned 29,368 acres of timber and brush as of May 5, 2022 in the Santa Fe National Forest.

The Cooks Peak fire started April 17 and has burned 59,359 acres to date.  

Satellite image of wildfires burning in New Mexico in May 2022.  Smoke can be see flowing from the site of three wildfires near Santa Fe.
Satellite image of wildfires burning in New Mexico on May 3, 2022. Smoke can be see flowing from the site of three wildfires near Santa Fe: Calf Canyon, Hermits Peak, and Cooks Peak. Image: NASA Aqua satellite.

2022 Year to Date Fires and Acreage for New Mexico

Cause of FireFiresAcres
Human11016,110
Natural10
Undetermined103227,290
Total Fires 2022 YTD214243,400
Source: Southwest Coordination Center, 2022.

2022 Wildfires in New Mexico Have Already Burned Double the Acreage of 2021

So far this year, New Mexico has experienced 214 fires that have burned a total of 243,400 acres. Of those fires, about half (103) — and most of the acreage (227,290) — are of undetermined origin.

This is already approaching double that of all wildfires that burned in 2021 in New Mexico. Last year, there were 823 total fires that burned 131,484 acres in the state.

Table and Map: 2021 Wildfires in New Mexico

Cause of FireFiresAcres
Human4475,534
Natural301118,017
Undetermined757,933
Total Fires823131,484
Source: Southwest Coordination Center, 2022.

Map: Largest 2021 Wildfires in New Mexico

Map of New Mexico with the 23 largest wildfires that happened in 2021.
The largest wildfires in New Mexico in 2021. Source: Southwest Coordination Center, 2022.

Table: Largest Wildfires in New Mexico in 2021

FireAcresCauseStartEndLatitudeLongitude
Johnson88918Human5/20/217/22/2133.2383333-108.4725
Doagy12785Human5/14/216/12/2133.444-108.0351
Three Rivers5854Human4/26/215/31/2133.40205-105.8708
Skiles 572489Human5/7/215/9/2136.78782-103.3954
Poso2057Human5/29/216/28/2136.477133-106.20713
Cuervito1621Human5/9/217/16/2135.53434-105.5013
Culebra1462Human2/27/213/1/2134.6825-105.73417
Amargo1296Human7/30/219/23/2136.9461111-107.04722
Eicks941Human5/24/215/30/2131.44-108.75972
Thompson Canyon732Human6/6/216/13/2132.9305556-108.86361
Wolf Draw712Human5/29/217/12/2136.46856-106.9292
Bullard633Human6/20/216/29/2132.6463889-108.57389
Rincon533Human6/11/217/16/2135.9081-105.5332
Drummond502Human5/19/217/8/2132.90075-107.7733
West Gum416.81Human12/2/2112/3/2132.9758333-103.41972
Bog395Human9/15/219/27/2134.04606-108.6321
Cemetery313.5Human6/12/217/16/2134.5452778-106.76528
Atchley Ranch278Human5/7/215/9/2136.4186111-103.75111
Elk229Human3/31/214/8/2133.49957-108.2714
Dry18Human4/13/214/20/2133.7413889-109.03278
Freeman15.95Human4/13/214/17/2133.8802778-108.82111
Macho0.9Human5/23/215/26/2135.72-105.73778
Source: Southwest Coordination Center, 2022.

Largest Wildfires in New Mexico 1990 – 2019

The 25 largest wildfires to date that have happened in New Mexico are:

RankNameStartEndCauseAcres
1Whitewater-Baldy5/16/127/19/12L297,845
2Las Conchas6/26/118/1/11H156,593
3Silver6/7/137/19/13L138,546
4Donaldson6/28/117/9/11L101,563
5Dry Lakes5/30/0310/30/03L94,580
6Pasco6/10/096/22/09L93,029
7McDonald3/12/063/15/06H92,390
8Ponil6/2/026/17/02L92,194
9Miller4/28/116/14/11H88,835
10Black Range Complex5/28/058/5/05L80,502
11Stiles Complex3/14/083/16/08H67,008
12Peppin5/15/046/25/04L64,488
13OK Bar4/22/185/13/18L61,620
14Boiler4/17/037/24/03L58,413
15Cato6/10/096/13/09L55,080
16Bear6/19/067/4/06U51,307
17Buzzard5/22/187/12/18U50,296
18Grande Complex3/7/003/8/00H50,000
19Rocky6/18/086/25/08L49,132
20Cerro Grande5/5/006/6/00H47,650
21Little Bear6/4/127/2/12L44,330
222064/12/184/14/18U44,162
23Brush/Straw5/14/937/31/93L43,000
24Valentine2/12/002/13/00U40,333
25Johnny6/17/002/17/00H40,000
Source: Southwest Coordination Center, 2022. Causes: L = lightning, H = human, U = unknown
An aerial view of burned trees after a wildfire in New Mexico in 2011.
Large-scaled mortality of pion pine, ponderosa pine, and Douglas-fir trees during the 2011 Las Conchas Fire in the Jemez Mountains, New Mexico. Photo: USGS, public domain.

New Mexico Wildfires: Number and Acres 1990-2015

Chart showing the number of acres burned by human and lightning causes in New Mexico from 1990-2015.  Human causes is dark blue and lightning is teal.
Number of acres burned by year for human-caused and lightning-caused wildfires in New Mexico between 1990 and 2015. Chart created based on data from: Southwest Coordination Center.
YEARHUMAN CAUSED
FIRES
LIGHTNING CAUSED
FIRES
TOTAL
FIRES
HUMAN CAUSED
ACRES
LIGHTNING CAUSED
ACRES
TOTAL
ACRES
19904725541,026521381274864,886
19913974458427,3756,55813,933
19928345051,33963,08058,506121,586
19931,4311,0122,443136,756236,000372,756
19941,2041,5262,73081,000328,246409,246
19958556351,49036,78654,34991,135
19969601,1102,070101,91262,811164,723
19977186211,3396,8197,10913,928
19981,1385491,68777,91450,321128,235
19991,0641,3852,449399,445114,954514,399
20001,0111,4552,466403,773115,404519,177
20016311,0181,6499,45829,43238,890
20029661,2202,186100,612324,098424,710
20037081,4502,15815,018307,527322,545
20044537231,17625,96711,05237,019
20055507491,29963,6267,56071,186
20061,1331,6812,814365,745186,438552,183
20074646861,15071,97047,238119208
20088024861,288290,341193,864484,205
20097947351,529100,400284,399384,799
20106935391,23291,798109,497201,295
20119748781,852896,747384,9811,281,728
20124995291,0288,101364,396372,497
20135225421,06467,578154,373221,951
201438334773016,5296,96223,491
20153343606949,93034,17344,103
TOTAL19,99021,74041,7303,500,8183,492,9956,993,813

References

April 27, 2022 – Wildfires in New Mexico. (2022, April 27). MODIS Web. https://modis.gsfc.nasa.gov/gallery/individual.php?db_date=2022-04-27

Garfin, G., G. Franco, H. Blanco, A. Comrie, P. Gonzalez, T. Piechota, R. Smyth, and R. Waskom. (2014). Ch. 20: Southwest. Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment, J. M. Melillo, Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and G. W. Yohe, Eds., U.S. Global Change Research Program, 462-486. doi:10.7930/J08G8HMN. https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/regions/southwest

Historical fire data. (2022). Southwest Coordination Center: National Geographic Area Coordination Center Website Portal. https://gacc.nifc.gov/swcc/predictive/intelligence/intelligence.htm 

Pratt, S. E. (2022, May 3). Wildfires continue to burn across New Mexico. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/149784/wildfires-continue-to-burn-across-new-mexico

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