NM wildfire destroys 13 homes, 47 other structures

AP News
Posted: Mar 08, 2011 11:20 PM
NM wildfire destroys 13 homes, 47 other structures

Authorities in New Mexico began escorting residents into their neighborhoods Tuesday evening to survey damage left by a wildfire that raced across nearly 1,800 acres in a rugged area of the state.

The human-caused fire destroyed 13 homes, damaged up to 47 smaller outbuildings and forced about 100 people to temporarily leave the area, State Forestry spokesman Dan Ware said. Residents who were initially asked to leave when the fire broke out Monday south of Silver City were allowed to return to their homes late Tuesday.

Officials said up to 100 structures within the burn area and another 100 structures within a quarter-mile of the fire perimeter are still considered threatened.

The Quail Ridge fire was listed as 50 percent contained by Tuesday night. Officials hoped to have it fully contained by Wednesday evening.

Ware said crews on the ground had assessed what was lost or damaged before meeting privately with homeowners Tuesday afternoon.

Darrell Britton told Albuquerque television station KOAT that he lost his home in the fire.

"I had to get out of here because it was coming fast," he said. "I didn't even look back. I just got out of here."

Winds picked up a bit Tuesday afternoon, but officials said the weather was nothing compared to the previous day when gusts whipped the flames out of control. High winds had initially prevented water-dropping helicopters or planes from flying Monday.

Fire crews dealt with hot spots throughout Tuesday when fire activity was light, and two air tankers dropped fire retardant on the flames as they moved through grass, scrub oak and pinon and juniper trees.

About 120 personnel were assigned to the fire, including firefighters from as far away as Albuquerque. About a dozen engines and eight water tenders were also helping fight the flames.

"It was a wind-driven event that put us in a defensive mode," Grant County fire management officer Gary Benavidez told the Silver City Daily Press. "(The fire) ran through that grass savannah extremely fast. It went over Quail Ridge Road like it wasn't even there."

Benavidez, who has had a long career in fire management, called the fire a worst-case scenario.

"It's the fire we've been talking about for years that could happen," he said. "This is what we've been trying to prevent. We've got a lot of fuels (dry grass and other vegetation), and we're in a drought."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency early Tuesday approved a grant that will cover 75 percent of the cost of fighting the fire.