Navajo River Fire Impacts Northwestern NM

Large wildfires during the heart of the southwest monsoon season are a fairly rare occurrence most years. Lightning sparked fires are typical in late June and early July before mainly dry thunderstorms transition to a wetter variety. These fires can be managed by land agencies while awaiting higher humidities to develop over the area.  July 2015 was a very wet month for much of New Mexico (10th wettest July), with the exception of northwestern New Mexico where near normal precipitation was observed. August turned much drier for many areas of the state as monsoon moisture and instability focused over Arizona. On August 19th, the Navajo River Fire broke out northwest of Dulce, NM, quickly growing to more than 1,000 acres by the 20th. The photo below taken by Bryon Odallac shows an established smoke plume emanating from the nearby higher terrain on August 20th.  The NASA SPoRT 0-10cm relative soil moisture imagery showed dry conditions coinciding with this same area of northwestern NM. The location of the wildfire is indicated by the “home” text. The 10-40cm relative soil moisture is also shown since it has been suggested that deeper layer soil moisture may better represent fuel conditions in more mature timber areas rather than the near surface duff layer. It is interesting to note that the 10-40cm layer values are actually wetter than the 0-10cm layer over much of this area. The two largest wildfires of the July to August monsoon period of 2015 have both occurred in these dry islands (see August 4, 2015 post on Fort Craig Wildfire).

Navajo River Fire captured by Bryon Odallac on August 20, 2015 near Dulce, NM.

Navajo River Fire captured by Bryon Odallac on August 20, 2015 near Dulce, NM.


NASA SPoRT LIS 0-10cm Relative Soil Moisture valid 00Z 21 Aug 2015.


NASA SPoRT LIS 10-40cm Relative Soil Moisture valid 00z 21 Aug 15.

NASA SPoRT LIS 10-40cm Relative Soil Moisture valid 00z 21 Aug 15.

3 thoughts on “Navajo River Fire Impacts Northwestern NM

  1. Another outstanding post, ABQ! Thank you for sharing this great example.

    This post and the post on the Fort Craig fire seemed to have taken a pre-existing fire that had already started and then demonstrated that these fires occurred in regions of reduced soil moisture by analyzing the soil moisture conditions from a day or two after the fire had started. Have you tried looking at using the SPoRT-LIS products in a more predictive capacity? For example, when thunderstorms that might produce lightning are in the forecast, could additional guidance/communication be provided in these “dry island” areas to alert them to a potentially enhanced risk of wildfires? Granted, this application may be beyond the scope of this initial trial evaluation period, but I was hoping to get some feedback on your thoughts regarding the potential for these fields to be used in that manner.

    • Brad, sorry didn’t see your comments until now. Brian and myself (fire wx focal pt) have talked about value adding the fuels portion of our Dry Lightning outbreak GFE smart tool. After nearly a year of reviewing your soil moisture graphics, I think it is safe to say they would be very useful for identifying short/long term fuel dryness locations within our forecast area. Our current tool looks at weather conditions leading up to the lightning event (“set-up” period), weather/fuel conditions during the event and weather conditions following the event. We are trying to alert customers to the top tier lightning fire ignition events. Fires that not only ignite but grow significantly within a few days of the ignition. Fuel condition is very very important. We are looking at ways in trying to value add this element…especially in a gridded form. As you know this can change in a blink of an eye…especially in fine fuels (grasses/shrubs). Your imagery provides near real time assessment and that is important. Now we just need to figure out how to get the values under the hood in GFE. We will let you know how the imagery helps improve our forecast capabilities of such events in the future.

      We also have a GFE smart tool that highlights critical fire weather conditions within our area. Again…soil moisture and I should mention vegetation greenness would value add quite a bit.

  2. Good post ABQ! And, good thoughts here Brad. I think there is the possibility of some data fusion with soil moisture products and forecast elements to predict areas at heightened risk of wildfires and blowing dust events for some of our Western office collaborators.

    Relative soil moisture values are still fairly low in the 10-40 cm layer, but how low when compared against a climatology? These types of data will be interesting to see and will be available soon.

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