N.M. Wildfire Jumps Containment Line in Manzano Mountains

May 2, 2008

A second consecutive day of fierce wind is hampering firefighters battling a blaze that more than doubled in size within hours in central New Mexico’s Manzano Mountains.

The Trigo Fire had been 95 percent contained at 4,500 acres before a spot fire flared on the north side and wind gusting to more than 50 mph drove the flames about 3 miles to the northeast.

Fire officials estimated the acreage at 11,368, or almost 18 square miles.

“We’re pretty much going to have a carbon copy of yesterday again today,” Peter D’Aquanni, a U.S. Forest Service public information officer, said Thursday.

Residents of the small communities of Torreon and Tajique and surrounding areas were asked to evacuate, he said. The request affects roughly 400 to 500 people, D’Aquanni said.

A shelter was set up for residents at the community center in Estancia.

Firefighters’ top priority will be protection of structures, he said.

A couple of air tankers were dropping fire retardant on the blaze Thursday morning, when wind was already blowing at a sustained 30 mph, D’Aquanni said.

The wind, which was shifting from the south-southwest to the north-northwest, grounded a pair of helicopters which had been used to drop buckets of water on the blaze, he said.

“Dropping water at this point would be fairly ineffective. By the time it hits the ground it would evaporate or wind up in another county,” D’Aquanni said.

The fire threatened a University of New Mexico observatory and a fire lookout on Capilla Peak.

There was no word on any damage, but D’Aquanni said a Forest Service employee who had been at the lookout was able to wait out the flames and was fine Wednesday night.

The human-caused fire began April 15 in the Cibola National Forest. Strong wind fanned the fire April 20, sending it racing toward Manzano and Torreon before firefighters were able to catch it.

The blaze burned nine weekend or summer homes and several outbuildings last week.

Before Wednesday’s flareup, crews had been working on rehabilitating some of the burned areas on the east and west ends of the fire.

On Thursday, “we’ll be trying to just put in some line anywhere we can along the eastern side of the fire before the wind shift happens because when it happens, we can’t have our people in front of the fire,” D’Aquanni said.

There were 182 people assigned to the blaze, but more firefighters have been ordered in, he said.

The strong wind was caused by a dry cold front sweeping across New Mexico.

“Nothing would have happened had we not had those kinds of winds,” D’Aquanni said. “But that’s Mother Nature.”

Wind gusting to 45 mph also pushed a fire that scorched some 45 square miles of grassland Wednesday in southeastern New Mexico, 15 miles northwest of Tatum.

Flames sped toward the New Mexico-Texas line before firefighters stopped it at N.M. 125, said Dan Ware, state Forestry Division spokesman.

The fire burned one structure, which was not a house, Ware said.

Crews were mopping up hot spots Thursday, he said.

Investigators are trying to determine a cause of the fire, Ware said.

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