Crews search for missing New Mexico firefighter

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 03, 2013 3:26 PM

SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) - More than 250 searchers were combing a rugged area of cliffs and hills in the Santa Fe National Forest on Tuesday looking for a firefighter missing since he went to check on a lightning-sparked wildfire last week, officials said.

Token Adams, 41, was last seen on Friday on an all-terrain vehicle in the Jemez Mountain District after he and two other firefighters set out to assess a small blaze, said Denise Ottaviano, spokeswoman for the Santa Fe National Forest.

"They separated and went out to look for the fire, had planned to meet back at a certain time. Two came back, Token did not," Ottaviano said, adding that Adams also failed to respond on his radio to calls from his colleagues.

The search for Adams comes amid a particularly tragic season for wildland firefighters after 19 members of a squad of elite hotshot firefighters died in an Arizona fire in June, and last month in Oregon a firefighter died when a tree fell on him.

Dozens of large and fast-moving wildfires have raged across the drought-parched U.S. West this year, straining national firefighting resources. The fire Adams and the other two firefighters were sent to assess was contained on Friday at 25 acres.

Adams, who is married with one child, works as an engine captain for a fire crew at the Jemez Ranger District.

On Friday evening, search and rescue teams were called in to help find Adams. Severe thunderstorms hampered efforts to look for Adams over the weekend, but on Tuesday crews planned to be out all day, Ottaviano said.

The area is "very rugged, remote terrain with steep uphill and downhill trails and steep cliffs. It's very difficult to search in that area," she said.

It is "very rare" for a firefighter to go missing, said Dan Ware, spokesman for the New Mexico State Forestry Division.

"When a crew goes out, there are safeguards built into this sort of thing. You're always in contact by radio or sight line. So there's a lot being devoted to this," Ware said.

(Reporting by Zelie Pollon; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Chris Reese)