Wildfire Politics Grip State as Disasters Hit Elsewhere

Dry New Mexico sees 27 wildfires in 4 days

10 May 2011

published by www.msnbc.msn.com

USA — Authorities have asked residents in three separate areas of New Mexico to leave their homes that are threatened by a series of wildfires that broke out around the state, fanned by wind and dry conditions.

There’s no immediate end in sight to what has been an almost constant battle against wildfires this year throughout the state, officials said.

“It’ll be over when it starts raining,” state Forestry Division spokesman Dan Ware said Tuesday. “We’re hoping for good seasonal moisture, but that isn’t going to start happening until probably July. We’re starting to add lightning to the mix.”

The first three months of the year marked the second-driest start to any year on record in New Mexico. And more than 400 in that time have scorched more than 490 square miles.

Officials plan to close Lincoln National Forest in southeastern New Mexico on Thursday. At least two other national forests have imposed various stages of fire restrictions, and the New Mexico State Forestry Division has enacted restrictions across all but parts of four northern counties.

A handful of the fires so far this year were started by lightning, but most have been human-caused.

Crews have battled 27 fires on state and private land in New Mexico since Saturday alone. Those fires, some of which are still burning, have charred more than 49 square miles. Several have burned or threatened houses or other structures.

The count does not include a fire burning since April 28 that has charred an additional 73 square miles in and near the Gila Wilderness.

Since the beginning of the year, New Mexico has reported 455 fires that have scorched more than 666 square miles.

About 50 residents of the southeastern New Mexico community of Queen were urged to evacuate after a wildfire started near the village about midnight Monday, destroying one house and damaging three others. Multiple structures remain threatened, officials said.

An estimated 1,500 acres of pinon, juniper and grass on Lincoln National Forest and private land have burned. The blaze also forced the closure of state highway 137 at Dark Canyon.

Smoke from the blaze was visible in nearby Carlsbad, Ware said.

An air tanker dropped fire retardant on part of the fire Tuesday morning, but high winds grounded the plane before noon.

All of southeast New Mexico was under a warning Tuesday for high winds and low humidity.

Residents of the Sacramento Mountain village of Mayhill were asked to leave Monday because of a blaze burning in steep terrain two miles west of the village, and the evacuation remained in effect Tuesday, Ware said. The fire was 10 percent contained.

The 2,000-acre blaze burned three structures. Crews were trying to determine Tuesday whether they were houses or other buildings. A shelter for evacuees was opened at the high school in nearby Cloudcroft.

U.S. 82, which was closed in the area Monday, has been reopened.

The fire burning in the rugged Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico had officials asking residents on Sunday to leave about 35 homes in the tiny community of Gila Hot Springs. The blaze also forced the closure of the Gila Cliff Dwellings Visitors Center, several campgrounds and a state highway.

Fire officials planned drops of water from helicopters Tuesday “until the winds pick up and the helicopters aren’t able to fly anymore,” said fire information officer Brian Martinez.

Two grass fires broke out Monday in southeastern New Mexico, and officials briefly evacuated a Baptist church and school on the west side of Roswell as a result of one of the fires. It wasn’t immediately known what started that fire or how many acres it had burned.

The second fire, farther southeast near the small community of Maljamar, burned 1,000 acres as winds drove it northward.

Another grass fire that broke out Monday in Torrance County east of Albuquerque burned 710 acres before it was under control, and a lightning-sparked fire spotted Friday 15 miles northwest of Hope in southern New Mexico had grown to 28 square miles by Tuesday and was 70 percent contained.

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