Investigators: New Mexico Wildfire Was Human Caused

CORONA, N.M. (AP) -- Two wind-fed wildfires burning 50 miles apart grew this weekend, but the endangered lookout tower for which one fire was named survived - as did a threatened mountain cabin nearby.

The Lookout and Peppin fires burned a combined 7,000 acres by Sunday night. The Peppin Fire on Capitan Peak had been contained when it suddenly tripled in size Sunday.

``It just all of a sudden - boom! - blew up, and everybody was surprised,'' fire information officer Gwen Shaffer said.

The lightning-caused Peppin Fire, burning in the Lincoln National Forest since May 15, grew from 800 to 2,400 acres Sunday, while the Lookout Fire in the Cibola National Forest near Corona to the north grew from 4,000 to 4,600 acres and was 40 percent contained, fire officials said.

Capitan is the mountain where fire-orphaned Smokey Bear, symbol of wildfire prevention, was found clinging to a smoldering tree trunk May 9, 1950.

Smokey's motto: ``Only you can prevent forest fires.''

Fire information officer Mary Voldahl said she wished whoever started the Lookout Fire had heeded Smokey's message, which she said is ``still very valid for keeping out those human caused fires that always seem to happen at the wrong time.''

Fire investigators on Sunday identified the point of origin of the Lookout Fire - some pine needles that someone threw sand on to extinguish. They described it as a ``warming'' fire, something to keep someone warm, but they said it was in an area of the forest off-limits to campfires.

While a ranch house, chicken coop and two unoccupied communications buildings burned in the Lookout Fire, the good news Sunday was that communications towers on Gallinas Peak near Corona had survived, fire information officer Mary Voldahl said.

However, Beth Wilson, fire information officer for the now-growing Peppin fire, warned that now the communications towers on Capitan may be in jeopardy.

The Lookout and Peppin fires are the state's first large blazes of the wildfire season.

More than 550 people battled the Lookout Fire on Sunday, with much of their work concentrated on the flanks and four water-dropping helicopters. Dozers cut 2 1/2 miles of fire line Sunday.

Saturday's gusts did force airborne tankers to cancel their scheduled drops of pink fire-retardant slurry. Firefighters measured at least one gust at 65 mph. Tankers were used Sunday on the Peppin Fire.