ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday evening began a mandatory evacuation of Chilili as the Dog Head Fire, which more than tripled in size, traveled its way.
“It is very, very close to the town itself,” Forest Service spokeswoman Arlene Perea said about 6 p.m. Wednesday. “It’s knocking at the door.”
BCSO spokeswoman Felicia Romero said Wednesday night that the blaze, which reportedly had flame lengths of 100 feet at times, had come within three miles of the town.
The county announced the evacuation for the community of about 140 around 7:30 p.m. on social media, and said N.M. 337 was closed at N.M. 217 due to the move.
Romero said deputies were driving to homes in the area and telling residents they must leave. She said if residents refused, deputies couldn’t physically remove them, but deputies wouldn’t be able to rescue them if the flames became too dangerous.
Around 11 p.m., officials announced more evacuations. Mandatory evacuations were put in place for Escabosa — a small area north of Chilili — and voluntary evacuations were put in place for Torrance County from the county line south to N.M. 55 and west of N.M. 337.
Evacuation centers were located in Estancia at the Torrance County Fairgrounds and in Tijeras at Los Vecinos Community Center.
The fire broke out Tuesday morning in a section of national forest land in the Manzano Mountains near Tajique. It remained uncontained late Wednesday, when Gov. Susana Martinez declared a state of emergency.
Speaking to about 100 residents gathered in the Torreon Community Center on Wednesday evening, Martinez pledged to provide all available state resources to protect lives from the growing fire that officials said was beginning to threaten some structures. Martinez said those resources could include the National Guard, if needed, to assist local authorities to evacuate people.
Officials at the community meeting said they expected the fire to cross over the Chilili Land Grant boundary by this morning, though they also admitted the fire’s heavy smoke has made it difficult to assess exactly how far the fire has advanced. So far, no private property had been damaged by the fire, according to State Forest officials.
Perea estimated that the fire had more than tripled in size since Wednesday morning, when officials reported that it had charred 682 acres. By 11 p.m., it was estimated at 2,000 acres.
“It’s probably more than tripled today,” she said Wednesday evening, adding that an exact acreage would be determined Wednesday night with an infrared flight. “We know it’s way up.”
Forest Service spokeswoman Denise Ottaviano said late Wednesday night that 30 mph winds rapidly pushed the fire northeast from where it sparked.
By Wednesday morning about 150 personnel were fighting the fire, but Perea said more crews had been ordered and were arriving throughout the day.
The InciWeb Incident Information System, a federal website, reported about 11 a.m. Wednesday that two Hotshot crews were on scene, with two more expected to arrive. Additionally, four helicopters, two lead planes and 12 air tankers were assigned to help fight the fire from the air.
Ottaviano said airtankers made more than 50 drops of fire retardant, and four helicopters were continually dumping water on it Wednesday.
While the plume of smoke from the Dog Head Fire was visible from Albuquerque on Wednesday, the city Environmental Health Department issued an air quality notification that haze from the 22,000-acre North Fire was reducing visibility in the metro area. The state Department of Health issued a smoke advisory for central New Mexico and warned that people with heart or lung disease, pregnant women, young children and adults over 65 should avoid outdoor activities when visibility falls to less than three miles.
The lightning-caused North Fire is burning in the San Mateo Mountains about 25 miles southwest of Magdalena. About 140 people are working to help manage the fire which is being used for “multiple resource benefits,” according to InciWeb.
Smoke from the Freeze Fire in southeastern Arizona was expected to reach Albuquerque on Wednesday night, the city Environmental Health Department warned. Albuquerque can expect “a break from the hazy conditions” Thursday, the department said.
— Journal staff writer Nicole Perez contributed to this report.