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Over 30 homes destroyed; 1,300 evacuated in Kokopelli Fire (NM)
Albuquerque KOB-TV 4 ^ | March 23, 2002 | Staff report

Posted on 03/23/2002 6:32:48 PM PST by CedarDave

Last Update: Saturday, March 23, 2002 20:09:57

A grass and timber fire near Alto, northwest of Ruidoso, has has burned more than 30 homes and forced the 1,300 residents to evacuate.

The blaze, called the Kokopelli Fire, had burned at least 32 homes as of 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Those homes were located in the east end of Alto and in the Rancho Ruidoso and Deer Park Woods subdivisions.

The Kokopelli Fire was estimated to be at least 1,000 acres as of 5:30 p.m. Saturday. It was burning just south of the Rancho Ruidoso subdivision and was moving towards the east.

Ruidoso emergency manager Tomas Chavez said the city had declared a state of emergency and was asking that the area be declared a disaster area. Governor Johnson planned to personally inspect the area Sunday.

Evacuations: About 1,300 people have been evacuated from the Kokopelli, Rancho Ruidoso, Deer Park Woods and High Mesa subdivisions. Many residents in the Ranches of Santera subdivision have also evacuated on their own accord.

The Red Cross is serving evacuees at Alto Lakes Country Club. The Ruidoso High School also opened its doors to assist evacuees.

A juvenile detention facility called Camp Sierra Blanca was placed on standby Saturday evening to evacuate. The inmates there would be transferred to a facility in Roswell if necessary. Families of inmates can call (505)841-2400 for information.

The Red Cross is accepting donations for the victims of the Kokopelli Fire. Donors can call 1-888-622-4370.

There have been no reports of injuries due to the fires.

Battling the Fire: High winds continued to push flames out of control through residential areas Saturday night. Wind were sustained at 47 miles per hour at the Sierra Blanca Airport Saturday with gusts around 60 miles per hour.

The fire knocked out power at the airport Saturday evening, hindering efforts to refuel emergency vehicles. The power was restored by 6:30 p.m.

The fire began shortly after noon Saturday in the driveway of a home near the Kokopelli Country Club. The cause is still unknown but is believed to be human-caused. The Lincoln County Sheriff's Office declared the fire "suspicious" Saturday evening.

Over 400 firefighters from across the region are battling the blaze. Slurry bombers were dropping repellent in the afternoon, but were grounded due to high winds. As of 6:00 p.m. Saturday evening, authorities decided to ground the slurry bombers for the remainder of the evening. They would begin again early as possible Sunday morning.

Other Fires: Two other wildfires were also burning on the nearby Mescalero Apache Reservation, but no structures are threatened. The #5-#2 Fire near Pajarita Mountain has burned more than 10,000 acres. The other blaze, the Rock Crusher Fire near Apache Summit, burned less than an acre. It was quickly extinguished.

Stay with Eyewitness News 4 and KOBTV.com for the latest information as it becomes available.


TOPICS: Breaking News; Culture/Society; News/Current Events; US: New Mexico
KEYWORDS: environment; forestfires; newmexico; spottedowl
Fire season is six weeks early this year due to a lack of rain or snow this winter. The Cerro Grande fire that destroyed 400 homes in Los Alamos was only two years ago.

Though this fire was likely arson caused, the sheriff of Lincoln County (as quoted on Channel 4) blamed environmental rules, specifically the spotted owl controversy, for preventing thinning of the forest in the area of the fire and therefore providing an excess of fuel for the fire.

1 posted on 03/23/2002 6:32:48 PM PST by CedarDave
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To: CedarDave
Probably not spotted owls- unless they've gone into retirement in Arizonia recently! However, I can understand there being a lack of good fire policy in the area, considering it is a suburban spot. I doubt logging and controlled burns would be very popular- and burning perhaps not even possible.
2 posted on 03/23/2002 6:59:23 PM PST by Cleburne
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To: Cleburne
I doubt logging and controlled burns would be very popular- and burning perhaps not even possible.

I'm not a lawyer, but I'm curious if it does turn out to be why it got so large and out of control, could the victims of the fire file a class action lawsuit against those organizations who fought to prevent the thinning?

3 posted on 03/23/2002 7:19:16 PM PST by zandtar
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To: CedarDave
>> The Red Cross is accepting donations for the victims of the Kokopelli Fire. Donors can call 1-888-622-4370.

They did that in New York and then kept many millions of dollars meant to go to Sept. 11 victims.

4 posted on 03/23/2002 7:22:49 PM PST by T'wit
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To: Cleburne
There is a lot of frustration in many areas of New Mexico over forest policy. Private land is intermixed with national forest land. Logging and/or thinning of the forest land is severely limited due to environmental restrictions. Even after a fire occurs, the enviro-nazis immediately sue to prevent logging of standing dead wood. Of course, this wood eventually falls and provides more fuel for future fires and the cycle repeats.

When I toured the Ruidoso area about two years ago, I was struck by how many homes were built in and under the pines. This area is, of course, private land, but irrespective of who owns it, it needs thinning and homes shouldn't be built in such a setting. I told some friends that the entire area was a tinder box, and this fire is the latest (and worst) of several to prove I was right. And actual fire season hasn't even begun yet. It will be a long spring and summer here in the SW.

5 posted on 03/23/2002 7:23:37 PM PST by CedarDave
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To: CedarDave
Wind were sustained at 47 miles per hour at the Sierra Blanca Airport Saturday with gusts around 60 miles per hour.

40 mph winds are considered 'breezy' by the weathermen in New Mexico, and it isn't 'windy' until they can clock them at 60 to 70 mph.

The scariest thing I've ever seen is a wall of fire being pushed by the wind across a HUGE area of open grassland.

And the scariest thing I've ever done (along with the rest of the volunteer Fire Department, of course) was to stop it!

6 posted on 03/23/2002 7:26:03 PM PST by MamaTexan
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To: zandtar
This one is likely arson since it started beside a driveway of an unoccupied house. The sheriff was expecting frustration because of fires last year on federal land that approached private land. There is general disdain (by folks who live in the area) of the environmentalists and the feds (who support them) such that needed fire protection measures can not be taken
7 posted on 03/23/2002 7:30:25 PM PST by CedarDave
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To: CedarDave
I suspect it will be a long, hot summer in the West. We've had a trace since I arrived here in September. We had zip in January, the rainy month.
8 posted on 03/23/2002 7:43:11 PM PST by brat
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To: CedarDave
The blaze, called the Kokopelli Fire, had burned at least 32 homes as of 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

Is it now common to name major fires with elan, in the manner of huricanes? It seems that in the past fires were named as an afterthought (e.g., "Great Chicago Fire"), as with any significant event.

9 posted on 03/23/2002 7:46:30 PM PST by monkey
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To: monkey
The fire started in the Kokopelli subdivision of Alto. Hence the name.
10 posted on 03/23/2002 8:20:08 PM PST by rawbob
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To: CedarDave
"The Red Cross is serving evacuees at Alto Lakes Country Club"

I wonder what their serving, and for how much? $$$$ < /sarcasm>

- Sorry, I absolutely could not resist! LOL

11 posted on 03/23/2002 8:38:05 PM PST by KineticKitty
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To: CedarDave
I think building a home in the SW forests is a little like building a home in a flood zone. It's a no-win situation either way, to make it safe to build homes in Ruidoso, you need to cut down most of the forests, but the reason people like homes there is because of the forests.
12 posted on 03/23/2002 9:00:07 PM PST by FITZ
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To: CedarDave
This is really a shame, what a beautiful area of the country Alto lake and Ruidoso are. I vacation there a few times a year just to enjoy and camp in the forest. Let's pray for rain to end the drought.
13 posted on 03/23/2002 9:07:16 PM PST by asneditor
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To: zandtar
What? Sue the United Nations? Don't be ridiculous!
14 posted on 03/23/2002 9:23:39 PM PST by B4Ranch
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To: Cleburne
I doubt logging and controlled burns would be very popular.

I grew up in a forested area of Northern Arizona where we had to deal with this. The problem is entirely the fault of hairy-assed hippies and old retired crocks who moved into the area in the last thirty years. They don't realize that the thickets of jack pines around them are the result of clear-cut logging performed a century ago; they think that was the way the forest always was.

These people are guaranteed to protest even the most reasonable logging proposals, not realizing that a mature Ponderosa pine forest should consist of widely spaced, large trees wih reddish bark. (Ponderosa being Latin for "ponderous" or large.) The gloomy, overcrowded, spindly, black-barked thickets of immature ponderosa in Arizona and New Mexico are firetraps, and do not provide the kind of habitat that the local fauna evolved to survive in.

Nothing would help the health of the forest, not to mention the safety of its human inhabitants, more than logging them out so that you can see a hundred yards in any direction, leaving a few mature giants. Within a few years there would be practically no evidence of the logging. It's like getting a haircut. Of course some of these bed-wetting tree huggers don't seem too keen on those either...

-ccm

15 posted on 03/23/2002 11:57:08 PM PST by ccmay
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To: B4Ranch
What? Sue the United Nations? Don't be ridiculous!

You'll have to forgive me for not being familiar with the area this fire is in. It's something we actually signed with the UN? Or were you being sarcastic and I missed it? 8)

I just remember reading about those firefighters who died last year because they waited 8 hours before getting any water brought to them via helicopter. Envirokooks had some protection about a certain fish in the local river and were blocking the firefighters from getting the water. I doubt you could get anything criminal, as the Envirokooks were fighting it via court injunctions, etc. However, if I was a family member of one of the victims, I'd be hunting up a good civil lawyer and go after them for everything they have, or at least try to. Not for personal gain, but to shut them down so it never happened again.

16 posted on 03/24/2002 2:36:01 AM PST by zandtar
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To: ccmay
Indeed where I lived in the Sierras, the enviro weenes forced the Forestry to halt all sales to thin an area that they claimed was critical spotted owl nesting area. A few years later the situation got so critical that when (note not if) the fire started it was a crown fire instead of a brush fire. The place looked like the moon when the fire went out. Nothing lived, and the mud slides the next rainy season wiped out the soil structure so bad it will take a hundred years for it to ever become forrest again. I am convinced that the one thing ecologists know nothing about is ecology. They spent all their time watching bambi movies instead of going to school.

Another prime example was the drought that triggered a bug infestation in the high serrias. The Sierra Club got injunctions to halt the emergency cutting of infestation pockets citing the standing dead tree rules to allow forest bird habitat. Those rules were meant to keep a few trees per acre available for wood peckers, not hundreds for bug breeding zones. The court cases took their merry time, and the bugs spread throughout the entire Serria Nevada range. The final total 7 years later was the loss of 43% of the High Serrias old growth trees. Thank you Sierra club, in that one move that netted you a few millions in donations, you wiped out more trees than all of logging, in all of Californias history. But what the heck, you got a new office in downtown San Francisco...

17 posted on 03/24/2002 2:56:51 AM PST by American in Israel
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To: CedarDave
Hi Cedar Dave, Sorry about your mountains being put to fire. My first trip to Ruidosa was in 1948 and they still had slots (my Senior High School Trip)I have watched it become more congested each year. The wrong acts of humans can disfigure nature but nature will out. I pray for rain and clarity in the minds of people involved.
18 posted on 03/24/2002 7:02:14 AM PST by drdemars
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To: American in Israel
Indeed where I lived in the Sierras, the enviro weenes forced the Forestry to halt all sales to thin an area that they claimed was critical spotted owl nesting area. A few years later the situation got so critical that when (note not if) the fire started it was a crown fire instead of a brush fire.

That is indeed the case. Either low intensity brush fires, or thinning (and selective logging is a form of thinning) is necessary for forest health. Do neither and you have the type of conditions that allow a crown fire and widespread destruction.

Conditions at 9 a.m. with winds already at 15-20 mph with higher gusts to 25-30 mph.

19 posted on 03/24/2002 7:10:40 AM PST by CedarDave
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To: drdemars
...they still had slots.

Talking about one-armed bandits? Two casinos up there now -- One on the Apache reservation, the other at the racetrack. Literally thousands of machines ready to separate you from your money!

20 posted on 03/24/2002 7:13:58 AM PST by CedarDave
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To: CedarDave
As of 9:50 a.m. Sunday, additional evacuations ordered in the Ruidoso-Hondo Valley area and two other locations south of the area that burned on Saturday. Winds already gusting 30-45 mph in the area. Gusts up to 60 mph expected in some areas. Number of homes burned down to 30 from 32 last evening. Helicopter shots show the fire skipped and jumped. Some homes burned while those next door were o.k.
21 posted on 03/24/2002 7:57:00 AM PST by CedarDave
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To: T'wit;CedarDave
>> The Red Cross is accepting donations for the victims of the Kokopelli Fire. Donors can call 1-888-622-4370. <<

They did that in New York and then kept many millions of dollars meant to go to Sept. 11 victims.

to help people afffected by this fire, do you have any suggestions for legititmate charities in your area?

22 posted on 03/24/2002 8:46:38 AM PST by Yehuda
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To: CedarDave
Noon MST update:

Governor Johnson live at press conference at noon. Both optimistic and pessimistic. Optimistic that no other areas in SW are burning right now and have resources concentrated in this area. Pessimistic that have multiple (thousands)new ignition sources as a result of yesterdays spread of t he fire. Origin is NOT arson. Homeowner took ashes from a fireplace (thought cool) and dumped them outside the house. Wind blew them and started a fire.

Governor Johnson calls for individuals to take action to prepare for fire -- cut brush and grass near house. Federal and state resources are at full disposal to fight fires. Johnson (a libertarian-leaning Republican in his last year of office) is a very articulate speaker and answers questions fully. Of course, this is a long way from the magnitude of the Cerro Grande fire in Los Alamos that caused 400 families to lose their homes.

23 posted on 03/24/2002 10:14:10 AM PST by CedarDave
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To: Yehuda
Unfortunately, the Red Cross is the only entity that I personally know of in this area. However, I'm sure that local churches are opening their doors, also. In rural areas, the Red Cross is composed of local people who are neighbors and volunteers. It's only when a disaster of national scope occurs do you get the type of bureaucratic mentality that leads to power grabs, corruption and a denial of American values (as happened in urban CA with the local and national organization forbidding singing of patriotic songs, or those mentioning God).
24 posted on 03/24/2002 10:21:24 AM PST by CedarDave
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To: CedarDave
You have the problem of the mosaic of private and federal land: even if the Forest Service pursues an effective policy, it wouldn't amount to much if private land owners didn't- or vice versa. I wold be reluctant to make someone thin their woods, as it is their property- but still, you might argue that by refusing to deal with a problem they are adversly affect their neighbor's property. It is a rather difficult question, without an easy answer. The Forest Service land obviously should have a good fire ecology plan, but one is left to the problem of private land- keeping property safe but preserving property rights at the same time. What do you think should be done?
25 posted on 03/24/2002 10:41:29 AM PST by Cleburne
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To: Cleburne
I doubt logging and controlled burns would be very popular- and burning perhaps not even possible.

Living in the midst of the largest forest of ponderosa pines in the world where sanitary burning is a daily (conditions permitting) event, I can assure you that the commie socialist yuppie scum put up with it. The la-de-da and hoi-poi understand that this practice reduces the likelihood of crown and wild fires and just suck it up, though never forgetting that 'tobacco smoke' is bad.

26 posted on 03/24/2002 1:28:17 PM PST by S.O.S121.500
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To: Cleburne
No one is forced to clear the immediate area around their house, and there no penalty if one does not do so. In fact, there are Federal grants that will reimburse you for certain expenses for doing this (though many could easily argue that our tax money should not be used in this manner).

Even if your neighbors do not clear their land, you can usually protect your own residence if you do not build directly under the trees, clear brushy material and grass, and use common sense on building materials -- for example a woodframe house with a cedar shake shingle roof is an invitation for a fire. Today's aerial pictures show houses, even mobile homes, that were still standing as a result of small cleared areas around them.

27 posted on 03/24/2002 1:32:13 PM PST by CedarDave
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To: CedarDave
KOB-TV now reading list of names and addresses of residents who lost homes. Lots of homeowners who live in Texas -- Lubbock, El Paso, Snyder, Garland, Houston. Station says all have already been notified so this should not be first notification. I'm sure the list will be posted soon on KOB's web site.
28 posted on 03/24/2002 2:30:52 PM PST by CedarDave
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To: zandtar
All of the envioromental agencies are products of Agenda 21/New World Order of the United Nations, along with civilian disarmament, open borders, etc.
29 posted on 03/24/2002 3:35:57 PM PST by B4Ranch
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