Hundreds evacuate as New Mexico wildfire grows to 6,000 acres

The Associated Press
Friday May 24, 2002

TRUCHAS, N.M. — Hundreds of people left their homes Thursday as a fast-moving 6,000-acre wildfire threatened a small northern New Mexico town. 

“I cried on the way down,” said Jill Jaramillo, who grabbed her four young daughters, blankets and a change of clothes before leaving for an emergency shelter. “How can you make a choice of what to bring?” 

The fire in the Santa Fe National Forest exploded from 400 acres to 6,000 within hours, prompting the evacuation request. It was moving toward the east end of town, and was 1 1/2 miles from the nearest building as of 5 p.m., fire information officer Charles Jankiewicz said. 

There were no immediate reports of any damage in Truchas, less than 100 miles from the Colorado border. 

The fire began to spot Thursday afternoon, meaning embers flung in front of the blaze started new fires. 

“There’s no way we can put people in front of this fire,” Jankiewicz said. “It’s too dangerous. This fire is going where it wants.” Special fire engines were thundering into place around clusters of homes and other buildings, he said. 

Jaramillo said the fire would be a hardship for residents. 

“We are all just barely making it, and we don’t need this to happen to us,” she said. “You struggle so hard, and it could be gone in a minute — everything.” 

A towering ridge of smoke soared high, dominating the Santa Fe sky. 

The wind gusted up 40 mph earlier but was turning east and could blow the fire away from the towns by Friday, National Weather Service meteorologist Clay Anderson said. 

In Colorado, seven buildings at a youth campground and two summer homes burned Thursday near Deckers. The blaze was between 4,000 and 5,000 acres and 20 percent contained, Forest Service spokesman Pete Davis said. 

“The weather has been extremely cooperative so far and the predictions are it’s going to continue that way,” he said. “We’re very hopeful.” 

More than 100 students were evacuated from the youth camp late Tuesday as the fire raced north, and about 100 homes were threatened in the area surrounding Deckers, a popular fly-fishing spot on the South Platte River. 

“There’s nothing you can do about it,” said B.A. Claussen, who saw flames on his way to his cabin Tuesday night. “I grabbed the wine and the stamp collection and we loaded the good stuff in the Jeep.” 

Claussen donned a fire retardant suit to go with firefighters to check out his cabin and was relieved to find it barely singed Thursday. A neighbor’s home was destroyed, he said. 

At Colorado’s request, the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed Thursday to pay 75 percent of the firefighting costs, agency spokesman Jim Chesnutt said. 

Several other fires were burning in the West.