Flooding Now A Concern Following Gila Fire
June 19, 2012

Beth Mitchell/U.S. Forest Service
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez discusses flood danger in the Gila Wilderness with forest district personnel.

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- The largest wildfire in New Mexico's history is now mostly under control at more than 80 percent containment. Now fire managers must turn their attention to preventing large-scale floods.

Since mid-May the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire has burned nearly 300,000 acres, or about 460 square miles. The fire charred vast expanses of forest vegetation in the center of the Gila Wilderness, which typically soak up water during the July rainy season. That could result in heavy run-off to nearby towns, something the U.S. forest service is trying to prevent.

The level of flooding will depend largely on the amount of rain that falls during the upcoming monsoon season. However, rangers are planning for a worst case scenario.

"It could be anywhere from water that's 6 feet deep and about as wide as the width of a football field," said forest service spokesman Al Koss.

To prevent floods the forest service is planning to drop grass seed and mulch via helicopter in areas of high concern. The possibility of run-off is keeping some Gila attractions, like the popular Catwalk trail, closed for the remainder of the season.