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Cajete Fire now at 700 acres, cause still unknown


Fire runs along the ground during the Cajete Fire in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Cajete Fire, which broke out Thursday in the Jemez Mountains, threatening homes and forcing evacuations, has increased by 100 acres to about 700 acres, and there has been no containment of the blaze, the U.S. Forest Service said Friday.

Gov. Susana Martinez, near La Cueva with emergency personnel Friday, urged residents near the fire to leave their homes when asked to prevent further danger.

“Voluntarily leave so people don’t have to go back again in order to rescue someone, because the fire is getting so intense; that’s when lives are at risk,” Martinez said.

Some of the estimated 300 people being asked to leave the fire zone chose to stay, and police were trying to get them out, said Dianne Berry, the Santa Fe National Forest’s acting public affairs specialist. An evacuation center was established at the Jemez Mountain Baptist Church in Jemez Springs.

The Cajate Fire in the Jemez Mountains started Thursday. (Courtesy USFS)

Julie Ann Overton, another Santa Fe National Forest spokeswoman, said in a news release that the cause of the fire, burning just south of Valles Caldera National Preserve on both sides of N.M. 4, is still unknown. It apparently started one mile northeast of Vallecitos de los Indios, a forested housing area on the south side of the road.

No structures or homes had been reported destroyed as of Friday afternoon.

N.M. 4 remained closed for more than 20 miles between N.M. 126, north of Jemez Springs, and N.M. 501, on the outskirts of Los Alamos. The fire was burning near and around the East Fork of the Jemez River. A trailhead along the East Fork is a well-known landmark on the highway.

Evacuations were ordered Thursday for residents of the Ruby Holt Plat, Los Griegos and Sierra de los Pinos areas. Two campgrounds were also evacuated.

Additional evacuations could be ordered, depending on the fire’s growth, a Forest Service news release said.

One of the evacuees staying at Jemez Mountains Baptist Church, Carolyn Corn, a retiree who has lived in Sierra de los Pinos for more than 40 years, left her home Thursday afternoon with her 13-year-old nephew who is visiting for the summer.

It was “frantic,” she said. This is the first time she has been required to seek shelter from a fire, and she is worried about her home.

“Everything I’ve had for 48 years (is there),” Corn said. “It’s very important. It’s my life.”

Sierra de los Pinos residents and sisters, 21-year-old Samantha Filer and 17-year-old Bethany Filer, said they weren’t initially too worried about the fire, because most forest fires in that area seem to start near their home but spread in the other direction. It wasn’t until they heard they needed to leave that Samantha said it felt more serious.

“It would just be very hard,” Bethany Filer said of the possibility of flames reaching their home. “But if it did (happen), God could bring good.”

Rachel Larson, daughter of the church’s pastor, said the church had taken in more than 50 people since Thursday afternoon and was offering food, laundry service, options for animal care and names of volunteers in Los Alamos and Jemez Springs who have offered take in people from the evacuation area.

Berry said the evacuation zone hadn’t expanded or decreased since Thursday. But residents of the affected area who need to go back for pets and valuables can go to mile marker 27 on N.M. 4 for a Sheriff’s Office escort.

Martinez said the state has received federal funding to cover 75 percent of the fire’s costs, but the eventual cost is unknown.

Los Alamos County spokesperson Julie Habiger said no part of that county has been evacuated. The Los Alamos Animal Shelter has been asked to assist Jemez Springs’ Animal Amigos with removing animals from evacuation sites in the Jemez Mountains.

Incoming animals will go to the Los Alamos’ shelter, while animals that were already at Los Alamos have been transferred to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter.