5 homes, barns burn in fast-moving NM grass fire

AP News
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Posted: Apr 04, 2011 12:36 AM
5 homes, barns burn in fast-moving NM grass fire

A fast-moving grass fire destroyed five homes and several barns, forced the evacuation of a well-known race track and nearby neighborhoods, and knocked out the power to about 1,000 homes and businesses, officials said Sunday.

New Mexico Forestry Division spokesman Dan Ware confirmed that the buildings were damaged by the wind-driven blaze, which had not been contained. He said it has scorched more than 2,000 acres, or over 3 square miles, on private, state and federal land in southern New Mexico.

Ware said he did not know the locations of the homes but that the barns were east of the Ruidoso Downs Racetrack and Casino, which is home to the All-American Futurity. The race is one of the richest in quarter horse racing; last year's winner earned $1 million.

"As far as I know, there wasn't any damage to the track," Ware told The Associated Press. "Some barns in the area might have been damaged."

About 125 to 150 customers and staff evacuated from the casino portion, Ruidoso Downs security official Charlie Falke said. The racetrack was closed at the time.

"We didn't see any flames; we just saw smoke," he said, adding that neither the track nor the casino was damaged that he expected the casino to reopen Monday.

Among those also under evacuation orders were the Ruidoso Gardens, Spaghetti Flats, River Ranch and Homestead Acres neighborhoods.

The blaze was near the Alto power substation, which serves about 1,000 homes and businesses, said Clint Gardner, a member services manager for Otero County Electric. Gardner said the extent of damage to the power lines was not immediately known.

The blaze began Sunday afternoon in Gavilan Canyon in Ruidoso. The cause also was not immediately known.

In the central part of the state, firefighters made progress on another wind-driven wildfire that prompted the evacuation of 50 people from the New Mexico Boys Ranch for underprivileged children, Ware said. That fire grew to about 2,000 acres and was believed to be human caused, he said.

Conditions in the area, which is more than 60 miles south of Albuquerque, were "blowing, smoky, dusty, very, very dry," said Vicky Fox, a fire information officer. No structures have burned, Fox said.

A third fire that had blackened about 2,000 acres in the Uvas Valley was nearing containment, Ware said.