On a dry and dusty afternoon in August, a white hot bolt of lightning zipped down from a thunderhead to the parched land below, sparking the dry grass of the Caja del Rio plateau. A few hours later, acres of land on the plateau were aflame and thick black smoke was billowing up from the landscape as the wildfire grew.
At the time, the Forest Service was already battling the Medio Fire, a larger wildfire burning northwest of Santa Fe in the Santa Fe National Forest. Early reports based on aerial surveillance estimated the Caja del Rio fire had burned 600 acres of land, but the Forest Service later revised the fire’s footprint down to 158 acres. One week later, the Caja del Rio fire was considered contained, while the Medio Fire still raged some 30 miles north. It would take another three weeks before that fire was fully contained.
The Medio Fire, which burned some 4,000 acres, returned attention to the impacts of climate change on New Mexico’s landscape, and the role of wildfire in forest management.