2 New Blazes Sparked In N.M.

LOS ALAMOS – Los Alamos residents may be back home, but firefighters still have a lot of work to do to protect them from the largest fire in New Mexico history, officials said Monday.

And two new fires were reported in northern New Mexico on Monday.

The Cerrita Fire was reportedly about five acres in size shortly after it started Monday morning and was still burning about six miles west of Santa Fe near the Caja Del Rio area late in the afternoon, officials said. The cause was undetermined.

A second new fire was reported Monday near ChimayĆ³, but it was small and not expected to be a significant threat.

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The Las Conchas Fire continued to challenge the 2,000 firefighters battling it, although the fire didn’t grow much from Sunday to Monday. By Monday afternoon, it was a little more than 123,000 acres and 19 percent contained, authorities said.

Crews were concerned the fire could change direction from northeast to north and west, and they expected extreme fire behavior to continue on slopes and in drainages. Monday’s focus was on the western perimeter of the fire.

Jayson Coil, Southwest Area Incident Management Team operations section chief, said some firefighters were replaced on Independence Day with new teams. Four firefighters have been injured so far, but only one suffered serious injuries. That firefighter was recovering from a broken pelvis, Coil said.

Firefighters spent most of Monday building a control line along the northeast side of Forest Road 144 to prevent the fire from moving any farther north, Coil said.

Control lines along the northwest side of Los Alamos, which is the east side of the fire, have been completed. Still, fire officials were contemplating moving control lines closer to the fire to lessen the amount of acreage burned.

Santa Clara Canyon and sacred sites on that pueblo’s land continued to be of concern, officials said at a news conference Monday.

Officials said the slow trickle of residents back into their Los Alamos homes was safe and successful. Several bears were spotted around town, but county authorities were working with the state Game & Fish department to try to relocate them.

Officials said Cochiti Mesa property owners would be allowed to survey the damage in that area today, officials said. The Sandoval County Fire Department will meet with land owners and escort them to their properties. They are asked to meet officials at 10 a.m. at the Banco Bonito, which is on the north side of N.M. State Highway 4, at mile marker 30. From there, landowners will be taken in government vehicles to their properties.

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Nonproperty owners will not be allowed home at this time because of hazardous conditions in the area. For more information, call 867-0245.

Los Alamos National Lab workers will also make a comeback today. They’ll be able to return to work, as the “immense” threat that the lab faced is over, County Fire Department Chief Doug Tucker said.

Fires continued to burn elsewhere around the state:

n The Donaldson Fire near Ruidoso Downs, at almost 97,000 acres, was 60 percent contained. Firefighters expect the fire, which was caused by lightning on June 28 about 10 miles south of Hondo, to be contained later this week.

n The last update on the Pacheco fire about nine miles north of Santa Fe was a few days ago, when officials noted that the fire had burned more than 10,000 acres and was 55 percent contained. The potential for the fire’s growth is very low.

n The Little Lewis fire on terrain south of Sacramento and southwest of Weed is almost fully contained. It burned about 1,000 acres since sparking on June 28.

Photo Credit – Roberto E. Rosales/Journal
Cutline – Los Alamos residents who have been allowed to return home after evacuating last week walk to the end of a canyon to watch the new Cerrita Fire just north of their town on Monday.

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