KRWG

New Mexico fire prompts evacuation of as many as 200

Jun 15, 2017

  A wildfire burning in northern New Mexico prompted the evacuation Thursday of as many as 200 people and led the governor to activate the state emergency operations center.

The flames were spreading quickly through an area of the Jemez Mountains along New Mexico Highway 4. A towering plume of smoke could be seen from miles away.

Gov. Susana Martinez said more than 100 acres had burned in a matter of hours.

"New Mexicans know better than most just how devastating wildfires can be, and as we face this year's fire season together, we're also reminding everyone to keep safety in mind and be prepared," she said in a statement.

The fire was burning near the boundary between the Santa Fe National Forest and Valles Caldera National Preserve, officials said.

"Structures are threatened but I'm not sure how many," forest spokeswoman Julie Ann Overton said.

A stretch of Highway 4 was closed as deputies worked to evacuate residents from some subdivisions. On the western border, roadblocks were set up not far from a grocery store in the village of La Cueva, where some evacuees stopped for supplies before moving on.

Miles to the east in Los Alamos, officials said they were prepared to help residents but no evacuation centers had been established.

At Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the nation's premier nuclear research centers, lab fire managers were monitoring the situation but noted that the flames were far from the lab.

The Jemez Mountains are dotted with pockets of homes and summer cabins and at the heart of the mountain range is the 140-square-mile national preserve.

Valles Caldera is home to vast grasslands, the remnants of one of North America's few super volcanoes and one of New Mexico's most famous elk herds. It's also held sacred by Native Americans.

Rangers said visitors were evacuated from the preserve earlier Thursday and that the fire was on the other of South Mountain, west of the visitors' center.

Sandoval County authorities initially reported that the fire was a controlled burn that got out of control, but forest officials said that wasn't the case since no prescribed fires were being conducted by federal or state agencies.

Overton said the cause of the fire was unknown.

  Several engines, three air tankers and a helicopter were assigned to the fire, and forest officials said more resources were ordered.

Several other fires are burning around New Mexico, but most are in more remote areas. A smoke advisory for parts of northern New Mexico will remain in effect at least through Friday.