High Wind Forecasts Worry New Mexico Fire Managers

Crews worked to strengthen fire lines Wednesday in advance of expected high winds around the southern New Mexico resort of Ruidoso Downs, where a fire has charred more than 16 square miles.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Crews worked to strengthen fire lines Wednesday in advance of expected high winds around the southern New Mexico resort of Ruidoso Downs, where a fire has charred more than 16 square miles.

State Forestry spokesman Dan Ware said crews on the ground were getting help during the morning from aircraft dropping fire-retardant slurry, but afternoon winds could be an issue for the planes.

The 10,341-acre fire that broke out Sunday was 35 percent contained.

Gov. Susana Martinez scheduled a visit to the area Wednesday to be briefed on response efforts and to meet with residents affected by the blaze.

Another fire burning in central New Mexico since Saturday was 70 percent contained. There's very little fire activity on that 2,700-acre blaze near the Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge, Ware said.

Both fires forced evacuations over the weekend. Several neighborhoods around Ruidoso Downs and casino-goers at the Ruidoso Downs Racetrack and Casino were evacuated. In the Sevilleta area, heavy smoke forced about 50 people from the New Mexico Boys Ranch near Belen, about 60 miles south of Albuquerque.

All the evacuations have been lifted.

State Forestry Division officials said Tuesday the Sevilleta fire was caused by sparks from a hand-held metal grinder that ignited grass and weeds. They were looking for the person or persons responsible.

No structures burned in the Sevilleta area, but the Ruidoso Downs-area blaze destroyed five houses and seven outbuildings, damaged two other homes and two outbuildings and burned numerous vehicles. The fire began in steep, rugged Gavilan Canyon and grew rapidly, pushed by winds estimated at 50 to 60 mph.

The fire was human-caused, but the exact cause was not known, Ware said.

Crews quickly contained a 2,400-acre grass fire that broke out Tuesday afternoon north of Portales in eastern New Mexico. No structures were threatened. Authorities said the cause of the fire was under investigation.

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