Man Accused Of Starting New Mexico Bosque Fire

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) -- Authorities have arrested a man accused of starting a fire that raced along the Rio Grande in south Albuquerque, prompting evacuations of some businesses and the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White said the man, identified as 40-year-old Michael Lucero, was arrested late Wednesday after being questioned by investigators. He faces charges of negligent arson and starting a fire on state land.

``He's facing very serious charges,'' White said. ``Let it serve as a message. If you go into the bosque and by whatever means catch it on fire, you're going to be held accountable.''

White said the man told investigators he had been drinking beer in the bosque and that a cigarette he was smoking sparked the blaze Wednesday afternoon.

The fire sent up a curtain of smoke as it burned 17 acres of dense cottonwood trees and other brush along the river. Firefighters built a line around the fire by nightfall.

State Forestry Division spokesman Dan Ware said crews will let the fire burn itself out.

``There's no reason not to,'' he said. ``If they don't, there's a possibility it could start back up.''

Ware warned that the fire will likely produce a lot of smoke as it eats its way through unburned areas within the fire's perimeter.

The fire burned along the east side of the river near the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Authorities evacuated the center along with an area to the south, which included the Bueno Foods factory and a trucking warehouse.

No structures were threatened, but firefighters wet down some of the businesses as a precaution.

Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez said the fire burned in a dense area of bosque that federal wildlife managers did not want thinned because it was habitat for the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher.

Chavez said he was frustrated with federal officials and wanted to talk with them Thursday about the area.

In southern New Mexico, firefighters have contained half of a blaze that charred about 50 acres of dead salt cedar trees north of Elephant Butte.

A fire along the Pecos River near Santa Rosa charred about 30 acres Wednesday afternoon, but crews had a handle on the flames and were working on mop-up operations, Ware said.