N.M. Homes Threatened in Wildfire Set by Grinder Sparks

May 23, 2013
The first significant fire for Grant County of 2013 was apparently started by sparks from a man grinding material in his shop. More than 160 acres burned.

May 23--SILVER CITY -- A spark from a man grinding in his shop with the door open Tuesday likely flew more than 50 feet to start a fire that burned 160 acres and threatened three nearby homes, including his own. It was the first significant fire of the 2013 fire season in Grant County.

The fire started about 4:30 Tuesday afternoon, off of McKinney road, four miles south of Silver City near the location of the 2011 Quail Ridge Fire that burned down 13 homes and more than 60 structures, said Jeff Fell of the Silver City Fire Department.

The homeowner went to his house to call 911 after he noticed the fire, and then began trying to put it out with a hose he had out while he was grinding. The homes were evacuated for a short time while firefighters fought to get the blaze under control.

"The wind definitely had a factor in it taking off, just like some of the winds we have seen this spring," Fell said.

While it wasn't as windy as some days we have seen earlier this spring, wind speed was at 10 to 15 miles per hour, with gusts up to 20 mph, Fell said, and that helped the fire quickly spread in the dry grass.

Firefighters from the Silver City, Wind Canyon and Tyrone Volunteer Fire Departments, and the Forest Service aggressively attacked the fire from the ground while four aircraft made attacks from the air.

A helicopter stationed at the Grant County airport began dipping water out of portable tanks that Whiskey Creek and Tyrone had set up, Fell said, and dropped

that on the fire. A lead plane led two air tankers, also called slurry bombers, to the site and the tankers dropped two loads of slurry on the fire just before sundown, Fell said.

Fire activity slowed as the wind died down and fire activity was minimal on Wednesday, Fell said. A 20-man Forest Service crew from Glenwood, and two State Forestry engines from Socorro were on the scene Wednesday, and the hand crew was expected to stay on the scene into the night, mopping up hot spots and making sure everything was holding, Fell said. State forestry would be back on the scene today. Incident Command was transferred to New Mexico State Forestry on Wednesday afternoon and they declared the fire 100 percent contained at around 2 p.m. The total acreage was mapped at 160 acres.

"It was completely accidental but human-caused," Fell said.

Two other smaller fires have been the only fires in Grant County so far, one a week or so ago that Whiskey Creek and Tyrone responded to that was less than acre in size, and one started by train off of Highway 180 near the mine in Hurley. That, too, remained less than an acre.

"We've been lucky," said Dan Ware with New Mexico State Forestry. "People have been really paying attention to the fact that its not just cigarette butts tossed from cars or abandoned campfires that start fires."

That a spark from a grinder inside a shop could start a fire that could spread so quickly and burn so many acres, shows how dry it is, he said.

Christine Steele can be reached at 575-538-5893 ext. 5802. Benjamin Fisher contributed to this report.

Copyright 2013 - Silver City Sun-News, N.M.

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