12-Square-Mile Wildfire Burns Homes, Forces Evacuations South of Albuquerque, N.M.

Wednesday, November 21st 2007, 10:49 pm
By: News On 6

MOUNTAINAIR, N.M. (AP) -- Air tankers and ground crews worked to knock down a wind-whipped wildfire on Wednesday that burned several structures and forced the evacuation of residents from a rural area in the Manzano Mountains.

The blaze has charred about 12 square miles, damaging at least three homes, four outbuildings and some vehicles since it broke out early Monday, said Arlene Perea, a spokeswoman for the Cibola National Forest Mountainair ranger district.

Perea said people in 75 to 100 homes in the villages of Punta del Agua and Manzano, about 36 miles southeast of Albuquerque, along with other residents in ranches scattered around the area were asked to leave.

``The biggest thing is just the weather,'' she said. ``The winds died down and we got the air tankers up and we were able to knock down the head of the fire.

A shelter was set up for evacuees at Mountainair High School, and people were taking their livestock to the Mountainair rodeo grounds. Ground crews worked Wednesday to bolster lines along the fire's flanks.

``It's way too dangerous to put anyone at the head of the fire,'' Perea said.

The state's emergency operation center was assisting the communities, while the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to help with costs associated with fighting the blaze.

The cause of the fire has not been determined, but Perea noted there has been no lightning in the area for a month.

The center's wildland fire outlook through January predicts an increased chance of fire across portions of the eastern plains in New Mexico primarily due to abundant grass after this year's wet spring and early summer.

Also, increased traffic in the forests during Christmas tree and firewood season contribute to the fire potential.