TRUCHAS, N.M. (AP) - Two northern New Mexico towns seem to have
escaped the wrath of a fast-moving wildfire that charred thousands
of acres and forced hundreds of people from their homes.
Residents in Truchas and the village of Cordova were asked to
evacuate as the Borrego Fire grew from 400 to 6,000 acres in a
matter of hours Thursday.
"I cried on the way down," said Jill Jaramillo, who grabbed
her four young daughters, a couple of pillows and blankets and a
change of clothes before leaving Truchas for a shelter set up at an
elementary school. "How can you make a choice of what to bring?"
By nightfall Thursday, the wind had changed direction and was
blowing the fire toward the east, past the towns, and state police
told residents of Cordova that they could return home.
"It's kind of skirted the town of Truchas at this point," said
fire information officer Charles Jankiewicz, who stayed in the town
throughout the fire siege Thursday.
No structures had been lost and neither Truchas nor Cordova was
immediately threatened, he said.
The fire settled down overnight as the winds calmed down, and
nearly a dozen hand crews worked to gain back some of the progress
lost Thursday when the wind whipped the blaze out of control.
"Just the intensity with which it burned (Thursday) afternoon
is by far the most impressive behavior we've seen so far," said
incident commander Van Bateman, who has battled several big fires
in the Southwest this spring.
Bateman said about 350 firefighters attacked the blaze, and
another 240 were being mobilized along with four more
water-dropping helicopters, bringing the total number of choppers
to seven. But six fire retardant tanker planes and the choppers
were grounded much of the afternoon Thursday because of winds that
gusted to 40 mph.
Hand crews worked overnight to cut off the fire, which appeared
to be headed toward the Pecos Wilderness, Bateman said.
"We've got to get to the point where we can flank the fire,
especially on the west and northwest side and keep it going toward
the wilderness," he said.
The blaze consumed ponderosa pine, grass and shrubs in the Santa
Fe National Forest about 40 miles north of Santa Fe and 100 miles
south of the Colorado line.
Fire officials said evacuations were voluntary. More than 350
residences were affected, they said.
Jaramillo, whose husband was in Texas for computer training,
said he was hurrying home on the first plane. Their daughters are
ages 1, 2, 8 and 11.
She said the fire would be a hardship for residents of Truchas,
who don't have much to start with.
"We are all just barely making it, and we don't need this to
happen to us," she said. "You struggle so hard, and it could be
gone in a minute - everything."
Ron Karchner, an American Red Cross worker who lives near
Espanola, watched the smoke from a distance Thursday as it blocked
out the northern New Mexico sky.
"What did we do to deserve this?" he asked. "New Mexico this
year has had so many fires, it's just unreal."
Fire officials said extremely dry conditions and gusty winds
have been driving the Borrego Fire. They said the fire began to
spot Thursday afternoon, meaning embers were flung out in front of
the blaze, starting new fires up ahead.
"There's no way we can put people in front of this fire,"
Jankiewicz said. "It's too dangerous. This fire is going where it
wants."
Special fire engines were positioned around clusters of homes
and other buildings in Truchas in case the wind shifted again.
Jankiewicz said the flames were less than a mile from some parts of
the town.
Truchas, whose name means "trout" in Spanish, is surrounded by
several fishing streams. It was chosen by filmmaker Robert Redford
as the setting for "The Milagro Beanfield War," the 1988 film
based on John Nichols' novel about northern New Mexico water
disputes.
The fire was first reported Wednesday afternoon. Officials were
trying to determine the cause.
At New Mexico's request, the Federal Emergency Management Agency
agreed Thursday to pay 75 percent of the firefighting costs, agency
spokesman David Passey said.
In far northeastern New Mexico, firefighters were battling a
570-acre wildfire in Colfax County. The Left Fork blaze, sparked
Tuesday by lightning, was expected to be fully contained Friday. No
homes or structures were threatened.
A human-caused fire in southern New Mexico, about 30 miles
northeast of Deming, had charred about 100 acres of grass and
yucca. High winds helped the fire grow but firefighters were able
to slow its progress Thursday.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press.