The Chavez fire earlier this week burned 480 to 500 acres of brush, grass and trees in Valencia and Socorro counties, racking up about $100,000 in firefighting costs and damage to the land.
Valencia County Deputy Fire Marshal Charles Eaton said investigators have determined the origin of the fire in the Abeytas and Las Nutrias areas was “initially a controlled burn. We still haven’t identified the person doing the burn. They could be charged with failure to control an open burn.”
The good news is that there were no human injuries, although 30 to 40 chickens perished in a coop at one residence.
Eaton said a pumphouse at the same site burned down, taking with it a pressure tank and control components, along with an upright freezer storing the family’s food supply.
“The only thing they have been inconvenienced with is that they have no domestic water,” Eaton said. “The Red Cross was able to assist in bringing them some bottled water.
Some livestock had been in the area of the fire, but owners were able to relocate the animals before the fire endangered them. “There were a couple of groups within the two counties that do animal rescue-type situations that came in and helped,” he said.
Eaton said firefighters were impressed that some residents who lived in the area of the Chavez fire had cleaned weeds and other flammable materials in a 30-foot area around their homes. “A couple of places, they hadn’t, so we had to place a truck there … and defend their homes,” he said.
It will be awhile before the charred brush, grass and trees come back to life or grow again. “It’s going to take some time for that to revegetate and look like it should. It’s a sorry sight,” Eaton said.
He said it was a difficult fire to fight because it was on both sides of the river, with firefighters having to travel down the highways and over the nearest bridges to get to the blaze.
“We had to manage two sites,” he said.
Eaton said the $100,000 in estimated costs includes four tankers, “hotshot” crews of 20 to 25, plus firefighters from Valencia and Socorro counties, State Forestry and the Bureau of Land Management.
“The State Forestry has been of great help from their main district office in Bernalillo. They’ve been sending crews down here to assist us and patrol. That’s been a great help,” the deputy fire marshal said.
“They’re traveling the levee roads along the bosque and identifying people who are not supposed to be in those areas. We’re trying to restrict the bosque as much as possible. If they see people burning, they will also stop and address that. When you’ve got more eyes and presence in the valley, it helps.”
Eaton said citizens have also been helping since a ban on open fire went into effect in the county on Wednesday morning. “We’ve had some small incidents since Monday,” he said. “Fortunately, we had some alert citizens who are reporting people not abiding by the burn-ban situation. We’ve been able to deal with it before they got to be major incidents.”
People have been “pretty cooperative,” he said. “There are a few who question the need, but once we explain the situation down south and throughout the state, they say, ‘OK, we agree.'”
The bans will continue “until we get some moisture,” he said.
So firefighters are looking to the skies for relief in the form of rain. “We need to do something real quick. If not, we might as well sit in the trucks and be ready to respond,” Eaton said.