Open burning restrictions for the unincorporated areas of Valencia County will go into effect at 8 a.m. Wednesday, April 3, by order of the Valencia County Fire Marshal John Cherry.
“Duke to the lack of precipitation, high winds, low humidity and record high temperatures, fuels throughout the unincoporated areas of Valencia County continue to dry out, increasing the (chance) … of fires to a dangerous level,” Cherry wrote. “There is a great potential for large catastrophic fires to occur,” Cherry said.
The restrictions will remain in effect until rescinded.
Faye Fox was at work Monday afternoon when she received a frantic phone call from her aunt alerting her that her house in Las Nutrias was in the path of a wildfire.
Fox’s uncle, Michael Lucero, and his wife, Chris, rushed to her house at 109 Las Nutrias Road to see what they could do to help save the home. When the couple arrived at Fox’s home, firefighters were on the scene trying to build a fire break before flames could travel to several structures in the area.
Lucero climbed onto the top of the house with a garden hose and sprayed down the roof. Chris immediately turned off Fox’s propane tank, and, with the help of a local volunteer firefighter, they released water into the irrigation ditch to help flood the field west of Fox’s home.
Fox, who works in Bosque Farms, said she couldn’t see the smoke until she got into Los Lunas. “The closer I got, the blacker the smoke got and the more frantic I got,” she said.
The wildfire, which has been named the Chavez Fire, charred more than 400 acres of bosque brush and farmland in Socorro and Valencia counties Monday. Thick, dark smoke could be seen for miles as both sides of the Rio Grande were going up in flames.
According to Jarales Fire Chief John Cherry Jr., the fire started in a one-acre field in Abeytas, west of the river.
“We got called out to an uncontrolled burn around 11:30 or 12 noon in Abeytas,” Cherry said. “While we were fighting it, it jumped into the bosque and into some trees.”
Cherry said he isn’t certain when the fire jumped to the other side of the river but said the flames went so deep into the wooded area the wildfire became extremely difficult to fight. He said the fire spread into a densely populated area filled with Russian olives and salt cedar.
Terri Wildermuth of the State Forestry Division said Tuesday that an official cause of the wildfire hasn’t yet been determined but said it was probably caused by humans.
Roger Onstad, of the Bureau of Land Management, and incident commander, said one house in Las Nutrias was lost during the wildfire and numerous out-buildings, including sheds, a chicken coop and greenhouse were either damaged or destroyed. Onstad said about a dozen other houses were threatened by flames Monday.
About 120 firefighters worked throughout the night to help contain the Chavez Fire, which traveled from Abeytas to Las Nutrias, Veguita and Sabinal. Although most of the fire damage took place in Socorro County, volunteers from several Valencia County fire departments helped to take control of the fire.
Along with the local firefighters, crews from the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District brought in bulldozers and started cutting back brush in an attempt to contain the fire Monday night. Firefighters from the Bureau of Land Management were also on the scene to help douse the hot spots.
As firefighters focused their attention on the ground and on protecting structures threatened by traveling flames and embers, four air tankers flew over the fire spraying thousands of gallons of retardant ahead of the fire.
Mark Chavez, public information officer for the Cibola National Forest, said the forest service made 10 different retardant drops over the Chavez Fire Monday afternoon. Two P-3 Orion air tankers and two DC-4 air tankers flew over the bosque fire for several hours dropping the red-colored slurry.
Onstad said, because of the irregular perimeter of the area in and around the bosque, efforts to contain the fire are moving slowly. “Right now, we’re about 40 percent contained,” Onstad said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m estimating we’ll have it totally contained by tonight.”
Although no official evacuation was declared for residents, law enforcement escorted several residents out of the area, for their own safety Monday evening.
Fox said she left her home Monday night only after retrieving her animals and important papers. Fox and her daughter stayed overnight at her mom’s home and returned to her house Tuesday morning.
“When I got home, everything seemed to be OK,” Fox said. “The fire was out when I came home, but it got close to the corner of my yard. We have fires like this every year. It’s not anything new to us, but this one was pretty bad.”
Onstad said the reason most of the homes in the area were saved was because the homeowners had already cleared debris from around their homes.
The Valencia County News-Bulletin is a locally owned and operated community newspaper, dedicated to serving Valencia County since 1910 through the highest journalistic and professional business standards. The VCNB is published weekly on Thursdays, including holidays both in print and online.