Firefighters from across the county, as well as those from multiple state agencies and neighboring counties are still working to contain a bosque fire that started yesterday afternoon.
Incident commander Steven Griego, with the New Mexico State Forestry, said extremely high winds drove a fire that started on the west side of the Rio Grande River, near Monte Vista Road in Belen, into the bosque and across the river.
“The fire jumped the river (to the east) in multiple places and pushed it into the subdivision,” Griego said.
The fire swept through fields east of the river, running north of the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, and was stopped near N.M. 47. The fire did not cross the highway.
“It was pretty active all night long; it was a good fight,” Griego said. “We got a lot of good work done while the heat of the day was gone. We worked on establishing and building up containment lines, especially near structures. Today we are mopping up and securing.”
Griego said officially the fire is at zero percent contained but there is containment within the estimated 150 acres that have burned.
“We are anticipating high winds again today — 20-30 mph, with gusts of 40-60 mph, so we may well be here through tonight again,” he said.
The commander couldn’t say Friday morning exactly how many homes were lost in the blaze, but Valencia County Fire Chief Brian Culp did verify Thursday evening that at least four structures were burned.
“Those can be anything from a home to a storage shed,” Culp said for clarification.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, the chief said.
Griego said no residents were injured in the fire, but two firefighters sustained minor injuries.
Those who have been evacuated from their homes are asked to wait until they are contacted to return, Griego said.
“Depending on the winds today, we will let them know as soon as possible when they can return,” he said. “They will be contacted.”
Griego asked residents to avoid the fire locations on both sides of the river, and to watch for fire personnel and equipment on N.M. 47.
The American Red Cross has established an emergency shelter at the Del Rio Senior Center, 351 Rio Communities Blvd. in Rio Communities.
Red Cross disaster program specialist Sandra Darling-Roberts said four residents stayed at the shelter Thursday night, with about 20 volunteer firefighters using the center for respite during the night.
“We are still assessing the community needs and coordinating resources,” Darling-Roberts said. “We will be here as long as we are needed.”
She said the shelter has an abundance of food and water at this time and urged community members who would like to donate food, water, clothing, toiletries or other items to help those who lost their homes to the fire or have been displaced to work directly with local groups.
The Rio Communities Cornerstone Church is coordinating the distribution of donations dropped off at Morgan’s Cakes and More, located in Oasis Plaza, 480 Rio Communities Blvd.
The building Blocks Learning Center, 303 W. Reinken Ave., in Belen, is also accepting donations for those effected by the fire.
Rio Communities city councilor Bill brown reported the La Merced Moose Lodge in Rio Communities provided dinner to those staying at the shelter last night, and the Valencia County Older Americans Program is providing breakfast and lunch today.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.