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Humidity helps slow blaze in Manzanos

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — High humidity and low wind brought good news to crews fighting the Dog Head Fire, which burned just over 250 acres Sunday, the slowest pace since the blaze broke out Tuesday morning, officials said.

“There’s been little growth,” Forest Service spokeswoman Arlene Perea said. “It hasn’t made any significant pushes.”

A Type 1 team took over management of the fire at 6 a.m. Sunday. Perea said the new team, which replaced a Type 2 team, is better equipped to handle a more complex fire and has better access to more resources. She said the new team was called in because of the fire’s proximity to so many homes.

More than 900 firefighters were on site Sunday night helping to suppress the blaze, which during its six-day tear through the Manzano Mountains has charred 17,891 acres and destroyed 24 homes along with 21 minor structures, according to a Sunday night update posted on the federal Incident Information System. An update released Saturday night reported that the fire had burned through 17,615 acres.

By Saturday night, officials said the fire was 9 percent contained. They did not increase containment Sunday, but Perea called Sunday “another really good day” and said crews took advantage of cooperative weather to make substantial headway. She also reminded people not to focus on the containment percentage as the only indication of progress and said that containment comes only when officials are certain that a piece of perimeter could withstand “a really big push.”

“We’ve got a lot of good hand line around most of the fire,” Perea said. “But it’s not what firefighters would consider secure line.”

Perea said bulldozers and hand crews will continue to expand and reinforce the existing line in coming days.

Despite two good days, Perea said people should remain on high alert.

Wildfires are unpredictable, she said, and it’s not unheard of for a well-behaved fire to quickly grow out of control.

“Don’t get too comfortable,” Perea said. “It’s a wildfire. It’s a big wildfire. There’s a lot of things that will be in play for a while, no matter how good it looks and how good it sounds.”

Perea said thunderstorms in the forecast for today could bring new challenges. Wind that typically comes ahead of any moisture, if heavy and consistent, could cause new spot fires to spark outside of the fire’s current boundaries.

“We could be off to the races again,” she said. “It’s not something that we’re predicting or anything, but it’s something we definitely take into consideration.”

Perea said officials are working to determine how best to return people to the evacuated areas, but the process will be long.

“There’s gonna be a lot of hazards in the area,” Perea said, naming downed power lines and unstable, burned trees as examples.

“It’s not as easy as folks being back in their homes and flipping the power back on,” she said.

The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office has ordered mandatory evacuation of several nearby communities including Chilili and Escobosa.