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Fire Patrol Sparked Blaze In Bosque

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For a “smokeless” device, the electronic cigarette apparently behind the recent bosque fire in Corrales sure caused a lot of it.

Corrales officials said a village employee was patrolling the area for signs of smoke when he dropped an electronic cigarette under a bush. It was likely the e-cigarette that ignited the June 20 fire, which burned 360 acres and threatened around 30 structures near Sandia Pueblo, Corrales Village Administrator John Avila said Thursday.

“Smokeless” cigarettes heat up to vaporize their liquid components, and Avila said the extremely dry conditions provided more than enough material to ignite the blaze.

“They do ignite something, and they can get hot,” he said. “But the real impetus behind this was the conditions.”

Avila said humidity was barely 5 percent the day the fire started, and as much as 6 inches of loose cotton from nearby cottonwoods littered the forest floor.

Immediately after the blaze began, the employee notified the village, and he and other trained employees tried to stamp out the fire or roll over it in fireproof suits. But the fire took advantage of dry, windy conditions and jumped 70 feet across the river from west to east.

“We’re just learning that you have to be extra careful with everything,” Avila said. “That’s why they were out there – to safeguard against this.”

The investigation into the cause of the fire began June 20 and was conducted by the Corrales police and fire department and State Forestry investigators. On Thursday, they confirmed that the e-cigarette started the blaze, according to Avila.

Avila said that between two and six village employees and dozens of volunteers patrol Corrales’ roughly seven-mile strip of the bosque each day.

“Eyes and ears out there help us,” he said.

No charges will be filed since the fire was ruled accidental, Avila said, nor will the employee face discipline.

Corrales Mayor Pro Tem Mike Harper originally blamed the fire on teenagers, accusing them of partying in the bosque and starting the blaze.

“There’s a lot of partying down there. I think teenagers going in to have a little too much fun sometimes, so it’s pretty worrisome to us in the village there, what irresponsible people will do,” Harper told KOAT-TV four days after the fire started.

Avila said the department will change its ordinances to outlaw electronic cigarettes in the bosque, and department heads will encourage employees to be extra careful around electronics, especially in drought conditions.

“The thing that we didn’t see was this device being a threat,” he said.

Avila said quick responses from various firefighting agencies prevented a bad situation from becoming worse.

“The reaction of the departments who responded was very much appreciated,” he said. “Without that, I think this could have been much worse on both sides” of the river.

— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal