Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Western States on Alert as Fires and Droughts Continue

TUESDAY, MAY 10, 2022 AS OF 1:00 PM EST 

Communities across the western United States (US) are battling heat-related disasters and major fire events. In New Mexico, the Cerro Pelado Fire and Cooks Peak Fire continue to threaten areas west and east of Santa Fe, respectively. The Cerro Pelado Fire, first identified on April 22, has only 11 percent containment, according to New Mexico Fire Information. To date, this fire has engaged nearly 900 personnel and damaged 40,958 acres in New Mexico. Conversely, the Cook Fire, which began on April 17, 2022, has roughly 97 percent containment. With high containment for the Cooks Fire, firefighters are working to contain the Cerro Pelado fire, but expect that the fire will slowly progress south along Highway 4.  The US Forest Service (USFS) has issued Stage II Fire Restrictions for the impacted areas, meaning visitors and residents cannot participate in any igniting or burning of materials, including smoking. The order first went into effect on Monday, May 2, and applies to regions buffering the Santa Fe National Forest and Bandelier National Monument.

New Mexico Fire Information: Fire Map of the Cerro Pelado Fire

In addition to ongoing fire efforts to slow the spread of the Cerro Pelado Fire, firefighters in the Zuni Mountains have identified another wildfire, named the Quartz Fire. The fire was first identified on May 9th, but crews feel confident that it will not pose ongoing threats to communities; the fire is already 75 percent contained and there are no plans to evacuate. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) reported California was facing its driest year on record, with January through April precipitation the lowest on record since 1895. The Weather Channel noted the data is concerning, particularly as California is poised to enter its dry season and the state’s snowpack averaged 21 percent as of May 9. The state’s two largest reservoirs have reached critically low levels as California moves into the dry season; with Shasta Lake at 40 percent total capacity as of May 3, while Lake 

Oroville was at 55 percent capacity, according to the US Drought Monitor. The drought additionally affects much of the American West, with the US Drought Monitor also noting Lake Powell and Lake Mead in the Colorado River Basin are only at 24 percent and 31 percent capacity, respectively. New Mexico’s Elephant Butte Reservoir in the Rio Grande Basin is currently 13 percent full. Mary Lee Knecht, public affairs officer for the US Bureau of Reclamation’s California-Great Basin Region, told CNN that the agency anticipates “that in the Sacramento Valley alone, over 350,000 acres of farmland will be fallowed,” in an area that is larger than the City of Los Angeles.

Statewide Precipitation Ranks: NCEI

The Six P’s: CAL FIRE

As the threat of new and more frequent wildfires continues to rise, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) encourages individuals to heed the guidance of local authorities to remain safe during wildfire events impacting their community. Developing weather situations and conditions are constantly being updated on the National Interagency Fire Center’s (NIFC’s) website. Current wildfire counts, jurisdictions and states affected, and weather reports are all available for the most up-to-date information. 

Individuals play a large role in community preparedness. NIFC recommends that members of communities impacted by wildfires can do their part by ensuring roadways are clear for emergency vehicles and flammable vegetation is kept away from structures. FEMA also recommends downloading their mobile application and text messaging system for instant notifications. To get a breakdown by State and County of public advisories, NOAA’s NWS has provided a list of red flag warnings and air quality alerts in decreasing order of severity.

The Hagerty Blog Team will continue providing information and updates on current events and disasters impacting the nation. Visit Disaster Discourse for the latest information.