10,000-acre fire burning in NM's Gila NF

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Fire spreads in Gila; bosque blaze nearly contained

4/4/02

RESERVE, N.M. (AP) - A lightning-caused grass fire spread quickly across 10,000 acres of the Gila National Forest on Wednesday, threatening dozens of homes. Authorities asked people to evacuate the rugged area, including a nearby campground.
The Middle Fire started small and was reported at just 100 acres early Wednesday. Firefighters initially decided to try to manage the fire, which was burning about 25 miles southeast of Reserve and about 40 miles east of the Arizona state line, Gila National Forest spokeswoman Loretta Ray said.

"The fire is moving in an easterly direction. It appears to be moving away from the Elk Springs area," Ray said late Wednesday.

The fire was about five miles south of the Elk Springs subdivision. Ray estimated that there are about 50 homes in the area.

"There have been no reports of any structures being lost," she said.

A special "strike force" of house-protecting fire engines was ordered for Elk Springs, and the evacuation was voluntary and precautionary, Ray said.

The fire, which began on the 500,000-acre Gila Wilderness, burned off the wilderness and into other areas of the Gila National Forest on Wednesday.

Six air tankers dropped loads of pink fire-retardant slurry on the fast-moving flames. About 150 people in all battled the blaze late Wednesday, and the number was expected to increase Thursday to about 400, Ray said.

The Snow Lake Recreation Area was closed to the public, Ray said. She said it wasn't clear whether there were any people in the recreation area, but if there are, they'd be evacuated.

Ray had said the Middle Fire was being managed earlier in the day and was being allowed to burn to clear out brush and fuel.

She said then that there was "a likelihood the Middle Fire will burn into an area where the Lilly Fire burned several years ago. Once it hits that area, it's really going to help taper it off."

Meanwhile, firefighters made progress Wednesday against a blaze that burned two structures and about 400 acres along the middle Rio Grande.

The Chavez Fire, which was first spotted Monday in the wooded tinder box along the river, was contained before nightfall Wednesday, said Terri Wildermuth of the state Forestry Division.

Firefighters plan to patrol the blaze Thursday and keep watch for any hot spots, she said.

The fire burned a chicken coop and a pump house and threatened several other structures. Wildermuth said two homes suffered smoke damage from the fire.

The fire was human-caused, but investigators were still trying to determine how it started, Wildermuth said.

A third blaze that broke out Tuesday near Dixon was quickly contained at about 10 acres. Authorities were investigating the cause of that fire.

The Las Cruces office of the Bureau of Land Management is putting fire restrictions in effect as of Thursday for about 5 million acres of public land in five southwestern New Mexico counties: Dona Ana, Grant, Hidalgo, Luna and Sierra counties.

The agency said the restrictions were designed to prevent wildfires.

The restrictions prohibit smoking except in enclosed vehicles or buildings, welding or using an acetylene torch with an open flame, using chain saws without a spark arrester and burning solid fuels, except petroleum-fueled stoves, lanterns and heaters in approved recreation areas.
 

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