N.M. wildfires force interstate closure - East Valley Tribune: News

N.M. wildfires force interstate closure

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Posted: Saturday, June 17, 2006 2:08 am | Updated: 3:49 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Hundreds of people were forced to evacuate their homes and an interstate was closed in two of the many wildfires that dotted the West on Friday.

In southwestern New Mexico's Gila National Forest, a lightning-sparked fire that burned at least 8,500 acres forced the evacuation of about 200 homes after wind gusts of about 40 mph pushed the blaze over a hand-cleared line. No homes had been damaged and the fire was 30 percent contained by Friday night, authorities said.

Fire officials had attempted to guide the fire into areas where heavy vegetation needed to be burned off, but decided Friday to work more aggressively to contain the blaze. It was consuming pinon, juniper and ponderosa pine trees northeast of Pinos Altos.

Lightning also sparked 15 fires that burned roughly 30,000 acres of mostly grassland in northeastern New Mexico.

South of Albuquerque, firefighters battled a blaze that temporarily shut down Interstate 25, a casino and a resort and forced the evacuation of about 30 homes. The highway reopened Friday morning and the evacuation order was lifted around noon Friday.

The winds had calmed Friday and firefighters worked to snuff small spot fires that remained, said Don Scott, deputy chief of emergency management for the Bernalillo County Fire Department.

"At this point, it's still very, very small," Scott said. "It's putting out a very small amount of smoke."

In Alpine, Ariz., a 1,300-acre fire that broke out Thursday burning at a relatively slower pace Friday and was 31 percent contained. Crews stopped the forward progress with bulldozers and backfires overnight.

Another northeastern Arizona wildfire reached 3,100 acres and was only 5 percent contained, officials said.

Residents of about 1,000 homes in Flagstaff, Ariz., were allowed to return Thursday, a day after they were evacuated as wind pushed flames from a pine forest toward them. The 120-acre fire crept within feet of a half-dozen houses, but crews managed to save all of them.

In northern Arizona near the Grand Canyon, three lightning-triggered wildfires burned a collective total of 2,515 acres, Kaibab National Forest officials said Friday. The fires were allowed to burn because they are not threatening any property and remained within boundaries established by fire managers.

In southern Colorado, all 100 people who left their homes near a 700-acre fire were given the all-clear to return late Thursday. The fire, near Westcliffe about 100 miles south of Denver, was 50 percent contained.

Wildfires also burned in Alaska, Utah and Texas.

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On the Net:

National Interagency Fire Center:www.nifc.gov

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