Created on Saturday, 01 June 2013 Written by BARRY MASSEY,Associated Press
PECOS, N.M. (AP) — Fire crews are battling two wildfires in New Mexico that have scorched thousands of acres, spurred evacuation calls for dozens of homes and shut down a state highway.
Officials said the fire in New Mexico's Santa Fe National Forest more than doubled in size by Friday night and was still totally uncontained. That prompted New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez to declare a state of emergency in San Miguel County to free up state funds to fight the fire.
New Mexico State Forestry spokesman Dan Ware said the evacuations came after the fire jumped state Route 63.
Officials asked residents in 140 homes — mostly used for the summer — to leave as crews battled the 3.9-square-mile (2,500-acre) blaze near the communities of Pecos and Tres Lagunas, about 25 miles east of Santa Fe.
They also evacuated campgrounds and closed trailheads around Pecos, Las Vegas and Santa Fe as they worked on containment lines in hopes of preventing the fire from moving toward the capital city's watershed and the Tres Lagunas community.
Friday night, officials said a second, smaller wildfire about 50 miles northwest of Albuquerque was also causing evacuations.
State forestry said in a statement that the Thompson Ridge fire near Jemez Springs started in the afternoon and had grown to an estimated 725 acres by evening.
The service said about 50 homes in the area had been evacuated and one home was damaged by the fire.
The blaze was still burning uncontrolled Friday night with more than 80 fire personnel on the scene, but officials said its growth had slowed, reducing any immediate threats to structures.
Meanwhile, the wind helped crews working to contain a wildfire burning Friday in rugged mountains north of Los Angeles.
A day earlier, gusts had driven flames toward the rural community of Green Valley and forced people from about 200 homes.
On Friday, winds were pushing the fire southward — back into the 2.8 square miles that have already burned.
"The fire is moving uphill and burning into the black," U.S. Forest Service spokesman Nathan Judy said. "It is a good thing because it's not going anywhere, it's not moving."
The fire was 15 percent contained and the cause was under investigation.
The fire led to the evacuations of a church camp off Lake Elizabeth and a forest service campground called Cottonwood, Judy said. Only a handful of campers were there, he said.
Some 600 firefighters working in 85-degree heat used hoes, shovels and bulldozers to scrape away brush on the rugged hillsides near Castaic along Interstate 5. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries.
In fighting the blaze in New Mexico's Santa Fe National Forest, a helicopter helped with efforts to secure the western perimeter of the fire Friday morning, but it was grounded by late morning due to high winds.
Nearly 300 firefighters were working on the blaze, which was being fueled by winds from the north and northwest.
Officials said a downed power line ignited the blaze Thursday. It's the first major wildfire this year in New Mexico, which is in its driest two-year period in nearly 120 years of record keeping.
"It has been a slow start to the season, until this point," said State Forester Tony Delfin. "Now we expect the conditions to go on until the monsoons come or the weather changes the pattern."
Duane Archuleta, forest fire management officer for the Santa Fe and Carson national forests, said if winds pushed the blaze toward an area that burned in the 2000 Viveash fire, it might help efforts to contain it.
"The fire could run and hit that ridge and kind of die out on that ridge," he said.
No structures had burned and no injuries were reported, but the fire was burning near Tres Lagunas, an upscale community of cabins and vacation homes.
"They're really working that hard and holding onto that," Archuleta said.
Among those evacuated were a group of seventh-graders staying at the Panchuela Campground.
Some homeowners in the Pecos Canyon area couldn't reach their houses Thursday because emergency crews had closed state Highway 63.
Tracy Bennett, manager of Hidden Valley Ranch guest ranch north of Pecos, said he evacuated his four guests as soon he saw smoke Thursday.
"The power's out and with all this going on, it's just unnerving," he said Friday as he watched the blaze from the roadblock.