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Whitewater Baldy Complex Fire Information

Whitewater Baldy Complex Wildfire Burning in Steep and Remote Terrain


The Whitewater-Baldy Fire Complex on the Gila National Forest, which is now the largest fire in recorded history in New Mexico, began as two separate lightning-caused fires in the Gila Wilderness. The Baldy Fire started on May 9th in a rugged, inaccessible area of the wilderness. Due to unsafe conditions and steep terrain, crews were unable to directly engage the fire to suppress it at the time.  The Whitewater Fire was spotted on May 16th, several miles west of the Baldy Fire and, from that first day, crews worked for full suppression of the fire. The extreme fire activity, coupled with incredibly rugged terrain and large boulders falling down the steep canyons forced fire crews to pull out of the area after the first day of fighting the fire. Safety of firefighters and the public is always the number one priority when fighting wildland fires.

On the second day of the Whitewater Fire, a Type 2 incident management team (IMT) was mobilized and began taking immediate actions to protect private property and suppress the Whitewater Fire including the construction of indirect line along N.M. State Highway 159 (aka Bursum Road). The two lightning-caused fires burned together on May 23rd as the Whitewater Fire moved to the east and the newly named Whitewater-Baldy Complex grew to over 70,000 acres during a day of sustained winds (40-50 m.p.h.) and extremely dry conditions due to prolonged drought conditions in the area. The next day, a Type 1 IMT was ordered to take over management of both fires beginning May 26th.


General Information

Main contact number:  575-388-8201

Original Forest and Wilderness Closure Map

Current Forest and Wilderness Closure Map

Fire Perimeter Map

Original Forest and Wilderness Closure Order

Current Wilderness Closure Order

For the latest info from Inciweb Click here

Burn Area Emergency Response (BAER) Information. 

Road Closures:  Click Here

Whitewater Baldy Fire Complex History

ALERT Precip Monitors  Instructions

For the latest info from Inciweb Click here


Dispatch Log File

These log files are "as is".  No information has been modified but for privacy reasons, some information has been redacted where indiviual names were used.

Whitewater Complex Fire Log:

Pages 1-26 contain aircraft timer documentation for the Whitewater Complex Wildfire May 16, 2012 - June 20, 2012.  Pages 26-48 document Whitewater Complex Fire communications with the Silver City Dispatch Center via radio, telephone, or in person.

Baldy Fire Log:

Pages 1-3 contain aircraft timer documentation for Baldy Wildfire May 9, 2012 - May 24, 2012. Pages 3-11 document Baldy Wildfire communications with the Silver City Dispatch Center via radio, telephone, or in person.

FS Personnel Conducting Burnout Operations



This page contains archived content and is no longer being updated. At the time of publication, it represented the best available science.

Bear Fire in New Mexico

Nearly two weeks after it started, the Bear Fire had burned 51,307 acres of mixed conifer forest in western New Mexico’s Gila National Forest, said the National Interagency Fire Center in its July 3, 2006, report. The fire was about 95 percent contained when the Advanced Land Imager (ALI) on NASA’s EO-1 satellite captured this false-color image on June 30, 2006. (The image is made from ALI’s observations of shortwave infrared, near-infrared, and blue light to make the burn scar more obvious than it would be in a photo-like image.) The newly burned area is deep reddish-brown, while the surrounding unburned vegetation is bright green. Places of naturally bare ground (or very sparse vegetation) appear orange. Clouds float overhead and cast black shadows to their west. No large plumes of smoke or glowing fire fronts indicated that the fire was still burning. The fire was detected on June 19. The Forest Service reports that it was started when a campfire burned out of control.

Gila National Forest contains the Gila Wilderness Area, the first land designated as wilderness area in the United States. As this image shows, the landscape is dominated by steep mountains, the tallest of which reaches 3,321 meters (10,896 feet) in elevation. The Gila National Forest is the sixth largest National Forest in the contiguous United States.

  • Further Reading:
  • InciWeb, a report on the Bear Fire provided on InciWeb, an interagency information system about wildfires.
  • National Fire News from the National Interagency Fire Center
  • Gila National Forest from the USDA Forest Service

NASA image provided courtesy of Lawrence Ong, EO-1 Science Team.

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Gila NF/Wilderness Ranger District: Johnson Fire Update for July 2, 2021

 Location: Johnson Canyon, west of McKenna Park. 11 miles west of Gila Cliff Dwellings, Wilderness Ranger District, Catron County, NM

Start Date: May 20, 2021                            Size: ~88918 acres         Containment:  24%

Cause: Lightning                                            Vegetation: Ponderosa Pine and Grass

Resources: One Wildland Fire Module

Summary: The Johnson Fire is approximately 88,918 acres and is burning on National Forest System lands on the Wilderness Ranger District, Gila National Forest.  The fire is showing minimal activity. It has received some precipitation on most of the area. Most of the fire is uncontained line, but due to moisture, hitting natural geographic barriers, and fuels transitions, the fire is not experiencing any growth. On Wednesday, June 30 the fire transitioned from the Gila/Las Cruces Type 3 Incident Management Team to a Type 4 IMT with Jessica Hilfers as Incident Commander Type 4 and Aaron Huerta as ICT4 trainee. This fire will be monitored primarily via the Mogollon Baldy Lookout and occasional helicopter reconnaissance as needed. 

Objectives: Provide for public and firefighter safety and continue to allow fire to play its natural role on the landscape.  

Safety: Until significant monsoonal moisture occurs over the entire fire area interior smokes may pop up as unburned fuels are consumed.   

CLOSURE: Due to hazardous fire conditions in the Johnson Fire area, an Emergency Area Closure order has been issued by the Gila National Forest for public health and safety. A large portion of the Gila Wilderness is CLOSED.  For a copy of the order and maps see: .

As a reminder “The Celebration Site-Skates area,” Johnson Fire Camp is closed to the public. For further information call 575-536-2250 (M-F 8:00 – 4:00 p.m.) or 575-519-0103 (any time before 7:00 p.m.)

Smoke/Air Quality: The New Mexico Department of Health site also known as 5-3-1, has good information and guidance on mitigating your smoke exposure. Smoke-sensitive individuals and people with respiratory problems are encouraged to take precautionary measures by staying inside during heavy smoke periods and avoiding outdoor activities.  

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Whitewater–Baldy complex Fire

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This article needs to be updated. Please help update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information.(October 2012)

The Whitewater–Baldy complex Fire was a wildfire that started on May 9, 2012 in Catron County, New Mexico, USA.[1] The fire burned more than 297,845 acres (465.383 sq mi; 120,534 ha) in Gila National Forest and was fully contained on July 31, 2012.[2] The area of the fire well surpassed that of the Las Conchas Fire of 2011, thus making Whitewater–Baldy the largest wildfire in New Mexico state history.[3] The fire burned mostly within the Gila Wilderness, which includes the fire's namesake, Whitewater Baldy mountain.


The fire started as two separate fires, the Whitewater fire which was detected on May 16 and the smaller Baldy fire[4] that started earlier on May 9, both from lightning strikes.[5] The fires merged on 24 May.[5] The fire has burned more than a dozen residences, caused the evacuation of several small towns, and forced the closure of the Gila Cliffdwellings and the Catwalk Recreation Area above Glenwood, New Mexico.[6] The fire grew rapidly at a rate of 20,000 acres (8,100 ha) per day from May 28 to June 9, after which growth slowed.[2] Rain showers in mid-July helped firefighters reach 95% containment by July 23 and 100% containment by July 31.[2]

Government response[edit]

On May 15, 2012, as a result of the Whitewater–Baldy complex fire, governor Susana Martinez declared the entire state of New Mexico to be in a drought. Martinez issued the formal drought declaration to help farmers, ranchers, and others secure federal drought funding. Martinez stated that in addition to "the work we're doing at the state level to assist communities facing serious drought conditions, I'm hopeful this declaration will assist them in securing any available federal funding as well."[7][8] Martinez stated that "As a result of this fire, small businesses are unquestionably feeling the impact." As a result, she encouraged them to apply for SBA loans.[9] On June 8, Martinez declared Catron County, New Mexico to be in a state of emergency. The declaration made funds available for both state and local response to the fire, and for community needs.[10]


  1. ^ "Whitewater Baldy Complex". Retrieved May 31, 2012.
  2. ^ abcHouseman, Bob; Truett, John; Lee, Susan; Palmer, Judy; Baca, Mike; Irwin, Emily. "Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire Review". Gila National Forest, United States Forest Service. Retrieved June 30, 2021.
  3. ^"Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire now biggest ever in New Mexico". KOB. May 30, 2012. Retrieved May 30, 2012.
  4. ^"Badldy Fire". InciWeb. May 23, 2012.
  5. ^ ab"Gila fires merge into Whitewater–Baldy Complex". Las Cruces Sun News. May 24, 2012.
  6. ^"Whitewater-Baldy Fire: Thick smoke forces Cliff Dwellings to close". Las Cruces Sun News. June 5, 2012.
  7. ^"Martinez issues drought declaration". American City Business Journals. May 17, 2012. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  8. ^"Record-setting NM fire expected to burn for weeks". Kansas City Star. June 1, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2012.
  9. ^"Fire-impacted small businesses urged to seek SBA loans". American City Business Journals. May 29, 2012. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  10. ^"NM governor declares emergency in Catron County due to fire". Las Cruces Sun-News. June 8, 2012. Retrieved June 8, 2012.

External links[edit]


Fires gila

Gila NF: Final Update on Johnson Fire – July 9, 2021

 Location: Johnson Canyon, west of McKenna Park. 11 miles west of Gila Cliff Dwellings, Wilderness Ranger District, Catron County, NM

Start Date: May 20, 2021                Size: ~88918 acres    Containment: 75%

Cause: Lightning                              Vegetation: Ponderosa Pine and Grass

Summary: The Johnson Fire is approximately 88,918 acres and is burning on National Forest System lands on the Wilderness Ranger District, Gila National Forest.  The fire is showing minimal activity. It has received precipitation on most of the area. Aerial reconnaissance shows no smoke or any other fire activity in the area.  This fire will be monitored until it is 100% contained and called out.

CLOSURE: The Emergency Area Closure for the Johnson Fire is lifted effective July 9, 2021 at 5:00 p.m.

Safety:  There are trails that are not recommended due to erosion, logs, and hazards from falling trees. Those include #182 Crest Trail, #153 Mogollon Trail, and #189 Rain Creek.  There may be other trails affected by either post-fire effects or flooding from monsoonal rains. The Forest is posting signage at popular wilderness trailheads to remind people of hazards of hiking/recreating in recently burned areas. 

Even when a fire is completely out there can be many hazards such as rolling rocks, soil erosion, flooding and falling trees. Make sure to look up and around while in the area effected by the Johnson Fire or any other recently burned area.

Smoke/Air Quality: The New Mexico Department of Health site also known as 5-3-1, has good information and guidance on mitigating your smoke exposure. Smoke-sensitive individuals and people with respiratory problems are encouraged to take precautionary measures by staying inside during heavy smoke periods and avoiding outdoor activities.  

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Burning in the Black Range- Using Prescribed Fire on the Gila National Forest

Recent showers decrease fire activity in Gila National Forest

A view of the Gila National Forest's Johnson Fire from the Mogollon Baldy Fire Lookout June 8, 2021.

SILVER CITY – Final updates for the Johnson and Lampbright fires were released in the last week, signifying reduced fire activity in the Gila National Forest.

On Saturday, June 26, forest crews along with biologists removed about 350 Gila trout from Langstroth and White creeks. This was due to the potential impact of ash from the Johnson Fire during monsoon season. The trout were taken to the Mora National Fish Hatchery and Technology Center.

The U.S. Forest Service reported that the creeks will be monitored for at least a year until they have stabilized — forest visitors will likely notice discoloration in the stream flows. At that point, the fish will be returned to their natural habitat.

The Johnson Fire grew by almost 500 acres since June 24, coming in at about 88,918 acres in size. Containment remains at 24% with light activity reported. The fire has been burning since May 20, about three miles west of the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument.

Recent rain showers covered large portions of the fire area and the forest service released their final update for the fire June 30, barring any significant changes.

The Haines Index forecast for July 1, 2021shows low to moderate potential for fire growth across the state of New Mexico.

“The support our team has experienced over the course of the Johnson Fire has been positive and supportive, with many visitors and local residents having the opportunity to see what active and thoughtful fire management can achieve,” said Sam Bullington, incident commander.

The Lampbright Fire burning on private land in Grant County was reported fully contained as of June 25. It burned about 42 acres west of Mimbres. Crews will continue to monitor the area.

More:Gila National Forest moves to 'very high' fire danger rating

The Gila National Forest remains under Stage One Fire Restrictions. With the Fourth of July holiday coming up, forest visitors are reminded to take precautions as wildfires can be easily started. Human-ignited wildfires are reportedly the leading cause of wildfire in New Mexico.

The recent precipitation the area received is beneficial and decreased fire danger, but the state continues to be in a drought.

Tips for a safe forest visit include:   

  • Always check fire restrictions and closures on public land before travelling and building a campfire.  
  • Leave the fireworks to the professionals.

The Bureau of Land Management New Mexico State Office issued a ban on fireworks on all BLM administered lands in the state preceding the holiday weekend. Violations of the order may result in a fine, jail time or both.

Thunderstorms and showers are expected going into the weekend. The National Weather Service has issued a Flash Flood Watch for the Silver City and Mimbres areas. During the monsoon season, the forest service reports that soils become saturated and stream flows increase. People are encouraged not to camp in floodplains. There is also still a risk of lightning which could potential start more wildfires. 

Leah Romero is the trending reporter at the Las Cruces Sun-News and can be reached at 575-418-3442, [email protected] or @rromero_leah on Twitter.

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Contact Information

Gila National Forest -

Supervisor's Office/Silver City Ranger District​
3005 E. Camino del Bosque
Silver City, NM 88061
(575) 388-8201

Portrait of acting forest supervisor Rob Lever
Acting Forest Supervisor
Rob Lever

Black Range Ranger District
1804 N Date Street
Truth or Consequences, NM 87901
Please call for an appointment

Glenwood Ranger District
18 Ranger Station Road
Glenwood, NM 88039
Please call for an appointment

Reserve Ranger District
5 Smokey Bear Circle
Reserve NM 87830

Quemado Ranger District
3 Lial Loop
Quemado, NM 87829

Wilderness Ranger District
3697 NM Hwy 35 N
Mimbres, NM 88049

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