Red River > Improve Fire Prevention and SuppressionReduce Hazardous Fuels Reduce Hazardous Fuels(cont.)
Restore Fire Adapted Ecosystems
Promote Community Assistance Summary Related Links


Red River is a small mountain town located in northern New location mapMexico with 484 permanent residents. Five subdivisions, with over 500 houses, reside just outside the town's jurisdiction. Most of these properties are used from June to August each year. At the height of summer the local population can increase to near 10,000. According to the 2000 census, the median home value is $160,300 with 58% of the homes occupied seasonally. The median household income is $31,337.

Red River is situated in a narrow, steep and heavily wooded canyon bordering the Carson National Forest on all sides. The town sits at 8,750 feet in elevation and extremely dense forests of mixed conifer and spruce fir place the town and nearby Red River WUI imagesubdivisions at great risk of catastrophic wildfire. The surrounding forest attracts a large number of outdoor enthusiasts who hike, camp and recreate year round. The high recreational use of the forest increases the chance of a human ignited fire. A further concern is the prevailing wind from the southeast, which makes Red River especially vulnerable to a wildfire from this direction. This small community is also challenged with educating a large population of absentee homeowners about the extreme wildfire threat.

Addressing the wildfire threat

The 1996 Hondo fire prompted the evacuation of Red River for three days and motivated the town into action. The Red River Urban Interface Group (RRUIG) formed in 1996, and created a partnership between federal, state and local fire agencies to address the wildfire risk facing Red River. The group prioritized areas requiring fuels reduction treatments and developed a Strategic Plan to achieve established objectives. The Strategic Plan sets out goals in four areas; 1) develop better wildfire suppression capabilities, 2) address the fuel hazards themselves, 3) educate the public not only about the risk but how they could contribute in addressing the risk, and 4) consider building code opportunities. The RRUIG's primary goal is to protect the community first by creating a buffer around the community that will not sustain a crown fire.

National Fire Plan (NFP) Community Assistance Programs

In New Mexico, NFP Community Assistance Programs incentivize communities to address their wildfire threat through five grant programs; 1) 20 Communities Cost-Share Program, supports thinning on private land, 2) Economic Action Programs, develops economic opportunities related to traditionally underutilized wood products 3) Volunteer/Rural Fire Assistance, improves firefighting capabilities of rural fire departments 4) Four Corners Sustainable Forest Partnerships, promotes community development through forest restoration and 5) Collaborative Forest Restoration Program, supports projects to restore forests on public lands.

Red River aggressively seeks monies through the NFP Community Assistance Programs. Red River received $298,400 in grants during 2001 and in 2002 received $289,000.

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Unique issues for mixed conifer and spruce fir forests

Historically, mixed conifer and spruce fir was the wettest fuel type and produced few large fire events. In the 1990s, weather patterns in New Mexico began to change and produced drought conditions. As a result, catastrophic wildfire became more common in this fuel type. Mixed conifer has a low canopy base height which means canopies are closer to the ground. A high wind is not required to initiate torching or to cause a continuous ground fire.

These new weather patterns created a need to thin mixed conifer and spruce fir fuel types for the first time. Finding the best prescription has been an experimental process. Mixed conifer and spruce fir stands tend to become interdependent on each other in terms of resistance to wind. The shallow roots of spruce make it easy for the tree to blow over. Winds in the area are commonly 35 - 40 mph. Stands cannot be significantly opened up without making them susceptible to wind throw.

Mixed conifer is Mexican spotted owl (MSO) habitat. Several recent court rulings directly impact MSO habitat and may significantly increase the amount of land designated as MSO critical habitat. For communities located in mixed conifer forests these rulings could raise new issues and prolong the planning and implementation of wildland urban interface (WUI) projects.

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Copyright© Toddi A. Steelman and North Carolina State University

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