New Mexico Fire 50 Percent Contained

CAPITAN, N.M. (AP) -- It has cost more than $4.7 million to stop a huge fire in the Capitan Mountains, but a fire official said Saturday history will show the blaze did more good than harm.

The 45,000-acre Peppin Fire, which at one point destroyed a dozen cabins, has lost most of its punch. By Saturday, most of the remaining hot spots were in the interior of the blaze and firefighters had secured a line around 50 percent of it.

``The biggest part of the fire is over,'' said fire information officer Gary Roberts. ``Most of the northern, eastern and southern flanks are cool. We are scaling down.''

Roberts said he was aboard a helicopter that flew over the fire earlier in the week. He said only about 20 percent of the total acreage was ``severely scorched,'' and trees in other areas received low to mid-intensity burning.

``There was no moon-scaping of the forest,'' he said.

Roberts said the fire got rid of a lot of heavy underbrush and other fire fuels.

``It probably has done more good than harm,'' he said. ``It got a lot of debris out of the forest floor. The exception would be the cabins we lost in the Pine Lodge area.''

Roberts said barring a resurgence of the fire, four or five of the Type 1 hot shot crews would probably be released on Sunday. There have been 11 hot shot crews on the fire.

Another fire information officer, Joe Lutmann, said the fire likely will continue to smolder for some time.

``Folks will be seeing smoke probably until the rains come in later this summer,'' Lutmann said. ``We don't put these fires out. When they get to this size, Mother Nature will.''

Roberts said fire crews on Saturday burned areas southwest of the fire where some homes are located. The fire was moving slowly in a northwest direction.

``Where we have most of the activity is where it jumped at Capitan Gap,'' Roberts said. ``It's just moving at a fairly slow pattern.''

Firefighters on Friday worked on rehabilitation efforts in the burned area east of Capitan Gap, seeding grass along bulldozer and hand-cut fire lines, cutting down hazardous trees and replacing damaged road and trail signs. They also seeded around some homes.

The fire was sparked by lightning May 15 in the Lincoln National Forest.

An eight-member team from India visited the fire Friday to learn more about how the Incident Command System works.

The team shadowed management team members, visited with firefighters and were to spend the night in tents at the fire camp.

The seven men and one woman represent federal and state governments in India. The Indian government is interested in professionalizing emergency response management there.