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UPDATED: Fire in Southwest N.M. Now at More Than 95 Square Miles

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Evacuations were lifted Wednesday for the tiny southwest New Mexico community of Gila Hot Springs, although a fire burning for nearly two weeks in and near the rugged Gila Wilderness has grown to more than 95 square miles.

The human-caused blaze, which broke out April 28, moved past the Gila Cliff Dwellings without damaging the ancient American Indian ruins, fire information officer Eric Neitzel said.

The Gila National Forest on Wednesday implemented tougher fire and smoking restrictions because of drought and extreme fire danger.

Fires and campfires are prohibited, and smoking is allowed only in enclosed vehicles or buildings.

Winds had whipped the fire across N.M. 15 in spots Tuesday, but crews held it away from the cliff dwellings visitors’ center, Neitzel said. Four surplus U.S. Forest Service trailers in the area burned, he said.

Crews continued to concentrate on protecting Gila Hot Springs, Neitzel said. However, people who were asked to leave their homes Sunday were allowed to return early Wednesday, he said.

N.M. 15, several trails and some campgrounds remain closed. The highway, which leads to the cliff dwellings, is open only to people who can prove they live in the area, Neitzel said.

A separate evacuation in the south-central community of Mayhill was lifted Tuesday, but about 50 people who were asked to evacuate because of a wildfire near the southeastern New Mexico village of Queen have not been allowed to return.

New Mexico fire officials said there’s no immediate end in sight to what has been an almost constant battle against wildfires — fanned by wind and dry conditions — throughout the state this year. State Forestry Division spokesman Dan Ware said monsoon rains are expected in July.

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

The Mayhill fire had grown to an estimated 32 square miles by Wednesday, burning pinon-juniper and mixed conifers in steep, rugged terrain.

Fire information officers said the blaze destroyed four homes, three commercial-government buildings and nine outbuildings, and damaged two other outbuildings. Thirteen damaged power poles had to be replaced.

Mayhill is surrounded by the Lincoln National Forest, which will close all its public land Thursday.

The 1,500-acre fire that broke out about midnight Monday at Queen burned one house and damaged three others. Officials said multiple structures remained threatened.

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May 11, 2011 3 p.m. — Gila Hot Springs Residents Allowed To Return Home Wednesday
Evacuations were lifted Wednesday for the tiny southwest New Mexico community of Gila Hot Springs, although a fire burning for nearly two weeks in and near the rugged Gila Wilderness has grown to more than 78 square miles.

The human-caused blaze, which broke out April 28, moved past the Gila Cliff Dwellings without damaging the ancient American Indian ruins, fire information officer Eric Neitzel said.

Winds whipped the fire across N.M. 15 in spots Tuesday, but crews held it away from the cliff dwellings visitors center, Neitzel said. Four surplus U.S. Forest Service trailers in the area burned, he said.

Crews continued to concentrate on protecting Gila Hot Springs, Neitzel said. However, people who were asked to leave their homes Sunday were allowed to return early Wednesday, he said.

N.M. 15, several trails and some campgrounds remain closed. The highway, which leads to the cliff dwellings, is open only to people who can prove they live in the area, Neitzel said.

A separate evacuation in the south-central community of Mayhill was lifted Tuesday, but about 50 people who were asked to evacuate because of a wildfire near the southeastern New Mexico village of Queen have not been allowed to return.

New Mexico fire officials said there’s no immediate end in sight to what has been an almost constant battle against wildfires — fanned by wind and dry conditions — throughout the state this year. State Forestry Division spokesman Dan Ware said monsoon rains are expected in July.

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

The Mayhill fire had grown to an estimated 32 square miles by Wednesday, burning pinon-juniper and mixed conifers in steep, rugged terrain.

Fire information officers said the blaze destroyed four homes, three commercial-government buildings and nine outbuildings, and damaged two other outbuildings. Thirteen damaged power poles had to be replaced.

Mayhill is surrounded by the Lincoln National Forest, which will close all its public land Thursday.

The 1,500-acre fire that broke out about midnight Monday at Queen burned one house and damaged three others. Officials said multiple structures remained threatened.

Ware said winds hampered plans to use aircraft to help fight the blaze Tuesday.

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May 11, 2011 1:20 p.m.

Evacuations have been lifted for the tiny southwest New Mexico community of Gila Hot Springs, although a fire burning for nearly two weeks in the area has grown to more than 78 square miles.

Fire information officer Eric Neitzel said the blaze has moved past the Gila Cliff Dwellings without damaging the ancient American Indian ruins.

Winds whipped the fire across N.M. 15 in spots Tuesday, but Neitzel said crews held it away from the cliff dwellings visitors center.

He said four surplus U.S. Forest Service trailers in the area burned.

Crews are concentrating on protecting structures in Gila Hot Springs, but Neitzel said people who were asked to leave their homes in the area were allowed to return Wednesday morning.

N.M. 15 remains closed.

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May 11, 2011 8:25 a.m. — Evacuated Mayhill Residents Allowed To Return Home

A wildfire west of the Sacramento Mountain village of Mayhill has burned more than 10,000 acres, but residents now are being allowed to return to their homes.

Fire officials say the blaze was 20 percent contained by Tuesday night as crews and bulldozers are making progress on building a fire line.

The fire is at 10,240 acres and is burning in steep, rugged terrain on the Lincoln National Forest and private land.

Its cause remains under investigation.

Mayhill residents were asked to leave Monday because of a blaze burning two miles west of the village.

Officials say the fire has destroyed three homes, three commercial-government buildings and nine outbuildings and damaged two other outbuildings. They say 13 damaged power poles also have had to be replaced.

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5:35pm 5/10/11 — Wildfires Prompt Evacuations of 3 N.M. Communities

Authorities have asked residents in three separate areas of New Mexico to leave their homes, which are threatened by a series of wildfires that broke out around the state.

There’s no immediate end in sight to what has been an almost constant battle against wildfires — fanned by wind and dry conditions — 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.”

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

Crews have battled almost 30 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 650 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 two miles west of the village, and the evacuation remained in effect Tuesday, Ware said. The fire was 10 percent contained.

“It’s burning in pretty steep, rugged terrain,” said fire information officer Joel Arnwine, adding that the area is dry and the wind has been gusting between 30-40 mph.

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 80 percent contained.

Another fire was spotted Tuesday in Santa Fe County near the Galisteo Creek. Fire officials said the flames had burned about 24 acres of private land and were a half-mile from several homes.

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May 10, 2011 2:27 p.m.

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.”

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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May 10, 2011 9:10 a.m. — Fire Forces Evacuation of SE N.M. Village of Queen

One home has been destroyed and three damaged by a wildfire discovered by fire crews in Eddy County around midnight, a fire that continues to be “very active” this morning, the New Mexico Forestry Division said in a news release.

The village of Queen, which is located on N.M. 137 southwest of Carlsbad, has been evacuated, and about 50 residents were asked to leave, according to the release.

The Queen Fire, which is situated between N.M. 137 and Forest Road 525 near the site of the recent Last Chance Fire, has burned an estimated 1,500 acres so far with 0 percent containment reported.

Currently the fire is burning north of the Guadalupe Christian Church Camp, and fire crews are conducting firing operations around the Queen Subdivision to keep the fire from spreading, the release said.

N.M. 137 at Dark Canyon has been closed, and the school bus route to Queen was canceled for today.

Smoke from the fire is impacting Carlsbad and surrounding communities, according to the Forestry Division.

Crews include firefighters from Eddy County, the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service.

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