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Early morning fire burns dozens of vehicles

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Twisted metal and piles of ash were all that was left of about 60 cars after a blaze in the parking lot of a Southeast Albuquerque apartment complex Friday.

Residents of the Villa Apartments near Gibson and San Pedro were jolted awake when the fire broke out around 12:30 a.m. Fire alarms started blaring and dozens of emergency vehicles rushed to the scene, where 30- to 40-foot flames had engulfed the middle of the carport just west of the complex. No one was injured.

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Tom Mims, a resident there who lost his car in the blaze, wasn’t sure what was happening when the alarms went off in the early morning.

“I went on the balcony, and there was this guy driving through and he says, ‘Your whole parking lot is going up in flames,’ ” Mims said. “So I went and looked out my side bedroom window, and I could see the flames.”

Residents said they heard cars exploding during the blaze as the heat intensified.

Officials are looking into what started the fire, but resident Michael Gallegos, who spoke to a Journal reporter from the balcony of his family’s apartment, said he saw the fire start.

He was watching television when he noticed some people on the balcony of a building across the parking lot lobbing fireworks onto the top of the carport, he said. His mom predicted what would happen next.

“I said, there’s going to be a fire tonight,” Kimberly Gallegos said.

Ten minutes later, a corner of the carport started smoldering. Michael Gallegos called 911, but within minutes it was engulfed.

Kimberly Gallegos said the lights in the apartment where the fireworks came from immediately shut off.

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Michael Gallegos said he told police and investigators about what happened, though officials from Albuquerque’s police and fire departments haven’t confirmed if they’re looking into it.

Melissa Romero, an AFD spokeswoman, said the department’s investigation into the fire is ongoing. An arson investigator was at the apartments Friday afternoon.

Hundreds of people were evacuated as the fire intensified, and it took firefighters 45 minutes to extinguish the blaze, which continued to smolder for hours.

Romero said 20 firetrucks responded, and she commended firefighters for keeping the flames contained to the carport area.

“It easily could have extended into the complex, which was very dangerous to the residents there,” she said.

She said 58 cars were damaged in the fire. Apartment manager Marye Thomas said the number was higher, at 84.

Steve Rigstad, another resident, said his 2004 Monte Carlo was destroyed.

He said his insurance won’t cover it, and he figures the loss will set him back about $2,000, but he is taking it in stride.

“You know how life goes. Nobody got hurt, that’s what matters,” Rigstad said. “It could have been a lot worse.”

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