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Watch Out For Danger of Burned Trees

November 4, 2017

Chris Judson


Photo: NPS Photo
Dead, falling, and fallen trees in an area severely burned by the Las Conchas Fire in 2011

One day in October, a hiker in Bandelier National Monument’s backcountry stopped along Frijoles Creek to have lunch and cool her feet in the water. She took off her backpack and put it just behind her on the creek bank. A breeze came up, and she heard a sharp CRAACCK right overhead. She looked up and then very quickly sprang to the other side of the creek, just as a burned Ponderosa pine fell right where she had been sitting, crushing her backpack but very narrowly missing her. She came back shaken and scratched, but her swift realization of the situation and fast reaction kept her from serious injuries.

That part of Bandelier, like many other areas in the Jemez Mountains, was heavily burned in the Las Conchas Fire in 2011. There are other burned areas throughout northern New Mexico, including those from the La Mesa Fire in 1977, Cerro Grande in 2000, Pacheco in 2011, Thompson Ridge in 2013, and many others. All of them pose dangers from falling trees, and the danger increases with the number of years since the trees were killed. Even large branches may fall, and even apparently healthy Ponderosa pines have been known to fall with little or no warning.

Hikers, and even those driving through burned areas with dead trees, need to be alert and plan ahead. Don’t choose those places to hike or drive on windy days, and seriously consider turning back if it becomes windy or a storm approaches. Listen for the sound of breaking trunks or branches, and stay out of the reach of nearby dead trees. Besides personal danger, there is the possibility that the road could be blocked by down trees.

According to Bandelier Superintendent Jason Lott, “We hope everyone will get out and enjoy Bandelier’s trails, and other wild places around the Jemez Mountains. But we also hope everyone will come home safe. If possible, choose days without wind, and be very aware of your surroundings. Protect yourself so you can enjoy the woods another day.”