June 4, 2018 / 6:19 AM / 14 days ago

Crews gain ground on New Mexico wildfire as Colorado blaze rages

(Reuters) - More than 1,000 evacuees from a wildfire in northern New Mexico were allowed to return home on Monday, a day after showers helped quell part of the blaze, but a second, smaller fire in neighboring Colorado continued to rage largely unchecked.

FILE PHOTO: Smoke is seen from a fire in this aerial shot above Cimarron, New Mexico, U.S., June 1, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media on June 2, 2018. Justin Hawkins/via REUTERS

The two fires, burning about 250 miles (400 km) apart in the Four Corners region of the American Southwest, have blackened nearly 39,000 acres combined since last Thursday, federal fire officials said.

Rain on Sunday helped firefighters in subduing the eastern flank of the so-called Ute Park Fire in New Mexico, leading authorities to lift evacuation orders for the 1,110 residents of Cimarron, a frontier-style town about 80 miles (130 km) northeast of Santa Fe, the state capital.

About 75 people from the small nearby community of Ute Park, near the Colorado border, remained under a mandatory evacuation on Monday, said Judith Dyess, spokeswoman for the multi-agency Southwest Incident Management Team managing the blaze.

“The rains came, and we’re glad of it,” Dyess said. “But it didn’t do it.” The fire’s western edge was still burning out of control, she said.

About 36,000 acres (14,569 hectares) of drought-parched grasslands and timber have gone up in flames since the Ute Park blaze erupted on Thursday. By early Monday, fire crews had managed to carve containment lines around 23 percent of the blaze, up from zero containment on Sunday morning.

To the northeast in Durango, Colorado, a blaze dubbed the 416 Fire had spread across some 2,400 acres (971 hectares) by Monday evening. About 825 homes there remained under evacuation, according to La Plata County spokeswoman Megan Graham.

The Colorado blaze, which began on Friday, stood at just 10-percent containment by Monday morning, officials said.

The causes of both fires were unknown and under investigation. No injuries or property losses were reported from either.

But the New Mexico fire brought some anxious moments late last week in Cimarron, the village’s clerk-administrator, Shawn Jeffrey, told Reuters by telephone. She described Cimarron as an “Old West town” complete with a hotel that claims to be haunted.

Jeffrey was among the few who stayed behind to keep city hall open. The fire crept to within 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of the village, she said.

“I’d say it was awfully scary,” she said. “North of town, you could see a wall of red glow.”

Cimarron lies about 140 miles (225 km) northeast of Albuquerque, the state’s largest city. Ute Park is about 10 miles (16 km) west of Cimarron.

The nearby Santa Fe National Forest was closed to the public indefinitely on Friday in a rare measure prompted by the heightened fire risk from prolonged drought.

Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Frank McGurty, Sandra Maler and Paul Tait

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