Skip to comments.Over 30 homes destroyed; 1,300 evacuated in Kokopelli Fire (NM)
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.
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.
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?
They did that in New York and then kept many millions of dollars meant to go to Sept. 11 victims.
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.
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!
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.
I wonder what their serving, and for how much? $$$$ < /sarcasm>
- Sorry, I absolutely could not resist! LOL
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...
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.
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...
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.