Firefighters were able to prevent a fire from spreading into the historic Oñate theater Sunday night, although some smoke damage was reported.
Belen Assistant Fire Chief Skip Mills said firefighters were called to the scene around 6 p.m. Sunday. When crews arrived, they found smoke billowing out of the unused office space east of the abandoned theater.
“The fire actually started behind the building,” Mills said. “There was a lot of smoke coming from the roof.”
Mills said the cause of the fire is still under investigation, but he believes it was intentionally set.
“We figure the fire started in a pile of rubbish behind the building,” he said. “The fire rose to the roof and in the eaves.”
The ventilation system throughout the building caused smoke to travel into the Oñate Theater, causing extreme smoke damage. The Greater Belen Chamber of Commerce office, located west of the unused office space, also fell victim to smoke damage, Mills said.
Mills said two transients who had been seen behind the building before the fire and who were watching firefighters put out the blaze were taken by police for questioning.
Belen Police Chief Paul Skotchdopole said officers did question the two men, but no charges were filed.
Firefighters from Belen, Rio Grande Estates and Jarales-Pueblitos fire departments all responded to the fire Sunday night.
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.