SANTA FE – The Cajete Fire burning in the Jemez Mountains west of Los Alamos grew quickly Thursday to cover an estimated 600 acres of forest and forced evacuations along N.M. 4.
Santa Fe National Forest spokeswoman Julie Anne Overton said about 6 p.m. Thursday that the fire had burned to cover 600 acres after it was first reported at 10:45 Thursday morning. It has been moving east in an area around the East Fork of the Jemez River. The cause of the fire, which began a mile northeast of the Vallecitos de los Indios community, hasn’t been determined, she said.
“It’s spreading fast,” Overton said.
Numerous homes are scattered in the forest near the East Fork, satellite imagery shows.
About 300 structures, mostly homes, are at risk. Communities along N.M. 4 were being evacuated, including Los Griegos, Cerro de los Pinos and Ruby Hole, Overton said.
Overton said numerous firefighting resources – including three heavy air tankers, six engines, a helicopter and multiple ground crews – were dispatched to the fire. More crews were expected to arrive later Thursday and today, she said.
About 175 firefighters are trying to prevent the flames from getting to the structures at risk, Overton said.
Four air tankers and a helicopter were called in. Crews are concerned about the fire hitting Los Griegos Mountain, which Overton said has a lot of fuel to burn.
State Police closed N.M. 4, the mountain road that curves its way through the mountains and the Santa Fe National Forest between Los Alamos and Jemez Springs, for at least 20 miles through and beyond the fire zone.
The closure was between N.M. 501 – West Jemez Road – on the outskirts of Los Alamos and N.M. 126, well north of Jemez Springs. The highway was expected to remain closed through the night, Overton said.
Visitors and employees of the nearby Valles Caldera National Preserve west of Los Alamos were also being evacuated, park public information officer Kimberly DeVall said.
Overton said the blaze is still about 20 miles from Los Alamos and said burn scars from previous fires in the area could help keep it from spreading toward the city, which was hit by the massive Cerro Grande Fire in 2000.
Los Alamos County spokeswoman Julie Habiger said the county hasn’t been asked to provide resources or shelter to evacuees, but said the county is ready to provide those accommodations if the need arises.
Los Alamos County police were in charge of the roadblock at West Jemez Road and N.M 4.
Robert and Linda Hand, who live nearby, waited for almost two hours before police cleared them and some of their neighbors to go through.
The area has been evacuated for other wildfires, but Robert Hand said this fire’s size was significant and he had heard from friends that it was getting worse.
While Hand said his home was prepared for these emergencies, he was worried that people in the fire area were “losing their houses right now, (and we) feel for them.
Forrest Estrada, a 20-year resident of Jemez Springs, was waiting for family to make it down from near Valles Caldera. She had been waiting for the road to clear for about six hours.
She, too, has had to leave home for fires before. This time, she was unable to get back up to her home and pack any belongings. Her main concern was about locals’ safety.
“I hope people are getting out without getting hurt,” said Estrada.
Journal North staff writer Megan Bennett contributed to this report.