Los Alamos, NM – The rapidly expanding Las Conchas wildfire has in fact reached the Pajarito ski area in New Mexico, officials battling the blaze near Los Alamos have confirmed.
In a noon press conference held today in Los Alamos, Fire Chief Doug Tucker confirmed that crews spent Monday night battling flames on the ski mountain.
“It made a run for the ski hill last night, and we fought fire last night on the ski hill from about ten o’clock,” Tucker explained. “We continue to put out spot fires there now. It ran to the ridge, it ran over and spotted into the ski hill.”
Regarding Pajarito’s base lodge, “The lodge is safe,” Tucker assured. “We were able to put out the spot fires around the lodge. We had some spot fires in the trees, but most of this fire has hooked around and gone on top of Camp May and toward Santa Clara Canyon.”
Tucker added that no structures were lost to the fire at all on Tuesday, leading to speculation that perhaps Pajarito’s lifts were spared. At least 30 structures burned on Monday. Tucker expressed his belief that the cause of the fire was a downed power line on private property.
Hot winds continue to blow in northern New Mexico, hampering firefighting efforts. “As you go to the top of the ski hill,” Tucker explained, “the winds are blowing about 25 (mph) and they will change direction on you as you stand there.”
The fire grew little during the day on Tuesday, holding at 60,741 acres estimated by infrared data, although that area has increased considerably from the 43,597 acres estimated late Monday. It remains zero percent contained. Near the ski area crews are working to contain the fire using burnout methods to prevent the fire from spreading north of Pajarito Road and east of Highway 501.
The entire northern New Mexico region is bone dry this summer after a La Niña winter that saw very little snowfall. Pajarito in fact had to close at the end of January due to a lack of snow, and by the close of the season on March 30th the 750-acre ski area located five miles west of the town of Los Alamos had reported annual snowfall of only 57 inches, well below its reported 125-inch average.
The entire population of Los Alamos, some 12,000 residents, is under a mandatory evacuation order. As a result, Pajarito ski area officials could not be reached for comment.