Military training may have sparked wildfire

Military training may have sparked wildfire

15 June 2010

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USA — Military training is again thought to be behind a fire burning on 1,000 acres of Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range land, sending smoke into the Mesilla Valley throughout Tuesday.

The fire began Tuesday morning during a live fire training exercise in Fort Bliss’ Do-a Ana Range, in an impact area – a location where unexploded ordnance is known to exist, according to Fort Bliss. Bureau of Land Management officials say crews are trying to gain access to the burn, but unexploded ordinance in the area as well as closed fences are hampering efforts, said BLM spokesman Louis Bevacqua.

Realtor Carl Topley was checking on listings and refilling flier boxes when he noticed the white haze over Soledad Canyon around 10 a.m. Tuesday – indicating something dry was burning on the eastern slopes.

“It obviously was not a cloud,” Topley said. “I suspected that the military may have lit something on fire on the back side of the mountains again. It seems to be an almost annual event.”

In April, 2009, the Oro Grande Range wildfire, which was also believed to have started during a training exercise, consumed 10,000 acres of brush and 10 utility poles and damaged three vehicles on a Fort Bliss firing range before being contained after two days.

And in 2008, military ammunition is believed to have ignited another fire in Soledad Canyon, in a remote area of the southern Organ Mountains on Fort Bliss land.

No resources were requested from Do-a Ana County to assist
with Tuesday’s fire, according to county spokesman Jess Williams.

About 500 acres were estimated burning at 4:30 p.m., according to Fort Bliss, whose firefighters and about 50 soldiers monitored the fire with the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, which also provided a spotter aircraft.

“It sounds like they’re on top of things on this fire,” Topley said. “But I know in years past, there have been fires where the BLM and the military couldn’t figure out whose fire it was. Meanwhile, the fire continued to burn.”

For citizens watching the smoke drift on the horizon, that can be pretty frustrating, he said – a sentiment shared by many.

“I don’t care whose fire it is,” he said. “Put it out.”

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