Crews working 'day and night' to keep blaze from homes - Albuquerque Journal

Crews working ‘day and night’ to keep blaze from homes

A column of smoke builds above the Calf Canyon/Hermit’s Peak Fire this week. The fire was pegged at 279,868 acres as of Saturday, with containment at 27%. (Photo courtesy of Macario Sanchez)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

The Saturday evening briefing began with a story.

A firefighter working the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire was standing in line to get a meal alongside evacuees when a man tried to hand him $30.

The firefighter declined, telling him to “give that to somebody who needs it.”

Later, the man’s wife told the firefighter the money they tried to give him was the family’s last $30. She thanked him.

Bill Morris, spokesman for southwest area incident management team, said the tale speaks to the character of those within the communities they are fighting to protect from what is shaping up to be the largest fire in New Mexico’s history.

“And each day I’m reminded who I’m working with here, who I’m talking to – what an honor it is for each of us to work with you,” Morris said.

The blaze has destroyed more than 400 structures and grown to nearly 280,000 acres by Saturday evening as the state’s congressional delegation joined Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in asking President Joe Biden to approve a disaster funding request in which the government covers 100% of the cost.

On the front lines, fire officials said the flames had not been able to make much headway over the past 24 hours, particularly in areas where homes stood.

Todd Abel, operations section chief, said light winds allowed them to fly aircraft to drop retardant and water to hamper the growth. He said they set a primary line to the north, far ahead of the fire, as a “place to make a stand” should the blaze grow exponentially – as it had in recent weeks.

Abel stressed that it was a proactive measure that didn’t mean they would burn everything in between and crews were still trying to contain the fire at its current boundaries. He said the fire was most active near Barillas Peak, where it jumped a primary containment line.

Abel said they set a secondary line – which was holding – and crews in the Pecos Valley were doing structure protection, such as setting up sprinklers and removing vegetation near homes. He said the fire is active in the north around Chacon, Cleveland and Mora but crews are working “day and night” to keep the flames from reaching homes.

Abel said as the fire grows north crews are using bulldozers to keep the fire from Guadalupita and are undertaking line preparation to ensure the fire can’t merge with the Cook’s Peak blaze, should it get that far.

Dan Pearson, fire behavior analyst, said there was a close call Saturday when a smoke column built up toward Jicarita Peak. He said the plume went from 19,000 to 37,000 feet in the span of 10 minutes – stirring fears it would collapse on firefighters in the area.

“Knock on wood, very happy, the wind was able to dissipate that column before it could really, really develop,” Pearson said.

The San Miguel Sheriff’s Office had no bad news to share, saying there were no changes to evacuation statuses and they were starting the process of getting people back into parts of Mineral Hills area.

Cerro Pelado Fire

A wildfire burning in the Jemez Mountains hovered around 45,000 acres on Saturday as fire crews brought it to 23% containment. Officials said no structures are currently at risk and aircraft are helping crews on the ground snuff out hot spots and hold containment lines.

“Although it appears that firefighters have the upper hand, the Cerro Pelado Fire is certainly not done yet, and our plan is to stay focused and diligent,” officials said Saturday morning.

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