Officials downgrade estimate of burned acreage

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

A day after an out-of-control grass fire ran for better than seven miles east of Portales, fire officials are sharply downgrading their original estimate of the acreage burned.

A closer assessment Thursday revealed that the total acreage burned was probably closer to 3,000 than the 20,000 estimated Wednesday as the fire was still burning, according to Battalion Chief Gary Nuckols of the Portales Fire Department.

“State Forestry is doing some exact GPS measurements on the size, but we won’t get a report from them for a few days,” Nuckols said.

A New Mexico State Forestry fire investigator was in the area Thursday, and wasn’t yet ready to declare a cause for the fire. He did concluded that it was definitely human-caused, according to NMSF public relations officer Dan Ware.

Ware said the investigator was also taking a look at the cause of a smaller, 50-acre fire south of Portales that flared up shortly after the big fire started.

“He just wants to see if there are any similarities between the two fires,” Ware said.

The fire started shortly before 3 p.m. Wednesday near mile marker 2 on N.M. 467. It burned to the east across sandhills and native grass, eventually jumping all four lanes of U.S. 70. The fire was brought under control around 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The fire closed U.S. 70 for approximately three hours.

Nuckols said no reports have come in today of any structures damaged by the wind-driven blaze.

“There were some that were threatened, but our guys and gals did a great job of protecting them,” Nuckols said.

Nuckols said a formal critique of how the coordination of the firefighting effort went isn’t planned but assisting agency feedback that has come in since the fire indicates that things went pretty well.

“It’s kind of touch and go when you have Mother Nature working against you like that,” Nuckols said. “Everybody did a great job. We’re fortunate that we have the county resources working so closely with us. Our community is very fortunate that we have all these resources working so well together.”

More than a dozen agencies from Roosevelt, Curry and Bailey counties were called for mutual aid during the fire.