Fires roar across New Mexico

By William P. Thompson

High winds plus dry grass added up to little sleep for local firefighters over the weekend.
One Portales home was destroyed and another damaged in separate fires on Sunday. About 2,000 acres of grassland were scorched near Causey, and local firefighters also helped battle a 100,000-acre grass fire between Tatum and Lovington in southeastern New Mexico on Sunday.
Lt. Gary Nuckols of the Portales Fire Department said he was on the job for 24 hours straight Sunday and Monday, spending about eight hours of that time on the scene of the structure fires.
Nuckols said the grass fires are bound to continue.
“The fires will continue as long as there is no moisture,” he said. “We have a real problem of people tossing their cigarettes from their car windows and starting grass fires.”
Robert Baca was glad to be alive after his double-wide house trailer burned Sunday evening in Portales. Baca said a neighbor knocked on his door about 8 p.m. and told him his home was on fire, giving Baca and his 18-year-old son James time to get out of the 1,450 square-foot trailer before it was leveled.
“I had a bunch of plywood stacked up in back of the home,” Baca said. “We’re not sure yet how the fire started.”
The home was at 202 E. Rose Street.
Nuckols said Monday he didn’t know how the fire started.
Baca said he did not have insurance on the trailer and he was unable to save any possessions.
“It burned so quickly we didn’t have time to save anything. We got out just with what we had on our backs,” he said.
Baca said his son’s Coca-Cola memorabilia collection was among items destroyed.
A fund has been set up through Portales National Bank for the Bacas. David Gonzales, Baca’s son-in-law, said he was trying to get help for the family. Baca said Red Cross officials had already contacted him and set up a meeting with him.
“He (Baca) is not the type of person to ask for help,” Gonzales said.
Earlier on Sunday, Portales firefighters saved a home at the corner of Avenue Q and 18th Street. Nuckols said an outdoor storage shed and a storage room attached to the house caught fire and caused some smoke damage to the home’s interior; otherwise the home was salvaged.
Nuckols said three Portales firefighters helped battle the grass fire near Causey. Ann Clark, a firefighter for the Causey Fire Department, said she and her crew, along with firefighters from Dora, Elida, Milnesand, Melrose and Arch, also spent a good part of Sunday battling the massive blaze between Tatum and Lovington.
About 200 people were evacuated from McDonald and Prairie View as a result of that fire, which was fanned by winds estimated at more than 50 mph. The McDonald post office was burned and one man was injured, officials said.
“I’ve had one hour of sleep (in about 36 hours),” Clark said Monday afternoon. “Most of the land destroyed was pasture and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).”
In addition to cigarettes, Nuckols said farmers and ranchers should be aware of any machinery on the land that can produce a spark.
James Kratzer, a meteorologist at Cannon Air Force Base, said the region’s next best shot at moisture is this Thursday or Friday.
“Our computer models say we should get rain this time of year, but we don’t,” Kratzer said. “Our computer models are off because it has been so dry.”
Kratzer said the Portales area experienced winds at speeds up to 50 mph Sunday.