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June 18, 2002

Firefighters Busy With Several New Mexico Fires

The Associated Press
    PECOS, N.M.   —   Firefighters worried about hot, windy weather Tuesday as they tried to rein in a blaze that scorched at least 1,772 acres of the Pecos Wilderness in northern New Mexico.
    Forecasts of wind gusting to 30 mph Tuesday afternoon make conditions ripe for the Trampas Fire to get the upper hand.
    "This fire has the potential for extreme activity this afternoon when it gets extremely warm and the winds pick up," said Donna Nemeth, fire information officer.
    Firefighters also must contend with steep, rough terrain and high elevations, she said.
    And they must fight the fire by hand. No machinery is allowed in the wilderness, which is in the Santa Fe National Forest in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains
    The Trampas Fire, apparently caused by lightning Saturday, was burning ponderosa pine and mixed conifer trees about three miles west of Rociada.
    The fire was moving northeast, but no structures were in imminent danger, Nemeth said.
    "There problem is that there are a number of spot fires associated with the main fire," Nemeth said.
    "We do continue to have structural protection in place around surrounding communities such as Rociada and Gascon," she said.
    There were 898 people assigned to the Trampas and Roybal fires, known as the Roybal Complex, Nemeth said.
    The Roybal Fire, which began Thursday north of Pecos, was 80 percent contained at 895 acres, she said.
    Firefighters cleared a line around the Roybal Fire, which is not as much of a concern as the Trampas, Nemeth said.
    Firefighters were working Tuesday to bolster the line around the Roybal and mop up hot spots inside the line to make sure embers are not blown across the line, she said.
    "The interior sections are still burning, but it's not likely sparks will fly across the line and start new fires," Nemeth said.
    Investigators were trying to determine a cause of the fire, also burning in the Santa Fe National Forest.
    Firefighters tackling the Roybal Fire were using 40 engines, three bulldozers, five water tenders and five helicopters. The helicopters also were being used for water drops on the Trampas.
    In northwestern New Mexico, crews also were trying to corral a fire that was spotted Monday afternoon along N.M. 112 in a different section of the Santa Fe National Forest.
    The BMG Fire charred 600 to 700 acres north of Llave, about 30 miles north of Cuba in Rio Arriba County, said Dolores Maese, fire information officer.
    The human-caused blaze was burning ponderosa pine, mixed conifer and juniper trees along with sagebrush, she said. Investigators were trying to determine who caused the fire, Maese said.
    No structures were threatened Tuesday, but firefighters managed to protect a couple of structures Monday, she said.
    The area is laced with oil and natural gas pipelines, so firefighters are being very careful when they use bulldozers, Maese said.
    Firefighters also were concerned about hot, dry, windy weather   —   they same type that caused the blaze to flare Monday, she said.
    "It was rolling and blowing   —   just real intense," Maese said.
    There were 300 firefighters assigned to the fire, she said. They were using five engines and a helicopter.
    Meanwhile, firefighters were close to containing other blazes in northern New Mexico.
    The Dad Fire, burned about 50 acres of mainly ponderosa pine on private land south of Buena Vista, said Terri Wildermuth, state Forestry Division spokeswoman. No structures were threatened, she said.
    On Sunday, "it was pretty fast-running, and they were able to get some dozers and hand crews up there and a couple of fire retardant drops," she said.
    The fire was 95 percent contained late Monday, Wildermuth said. The cause was under investigation.
    The Ponil Complex, made up of three blazes that burned 92,500 acres mostly on the Philmont Scout Ranch, was declared contained Monday evening, said fire information officer Karen Lightfoot.
    The Ponil, kindled by lightning June 2, burned a mosaic of pinon and juniper   —   along with grass   —   at lower elevations, and ponderosa pine and mixed conifers at higher elevations.
    In southern New Mexico, firefighters mopped up the Garfield Fire, which burned 150 private acres of salt cedar and Rio Grande bosque near Garfield, said Walt Hisenberg, fire information officer.
    The cause of the fire, which began Sunday, was under investigation, he said.