Three Arrested In Connection With New Mexico Bosque Fire

June 11, 2004
A fire in the Rio Grande bosque that destroyed two structures and prompted the evacuations of more than 100 homes was sparked by metal grinding or welding.
ALBUQUERQUE (AP) -- Firefighters have nearly contained a blaze that was sparked by metal grinding in a workshop and spread to the Rio Grande bosque.

Firefighters have built lines around most of the fire, which was 95 percent contained late Friday, Bernalillo County Fire Chief Bett Clark said.

The fire burned the shop where three men were working and destroyed two others structures. It prompted the evacuations of more than 100 homes Thursday night. Residents were allowed back into their homes Friday.

The men working in the shop _ Benjamin Tucker, 25; Peter Gallo, 29; and Jan Yoder, 34 _ were arraigned Friday on charges of negligent use of fire.

The blaze scorched between 60 and 70 acres along both sides of the river. Smoldering can be expected for the next few days, fire officials said.

The men, through their attorney John McCall, issued a statement denying any criminal wrongdoing. They said an investigation would exonerate them.

``The three individuals tried to fight the fire,'' McCall said Friday. ``Their (house) water pump was failing. They tried to open the (irrigation) ditch and the firemen let them stay there to fight the fire.''

In their statement, the men said they were concerned about how the investigation was being handled and did not want to become scapegoats for the fire.

Each of the men posted $2,500 bond before being released Friday.

``It is pretty clear from our experience that something as benign as working on a grinder needs to be done safely. You need to ensure to the court that you do not do any type of activity that results in sparks,'' Metro Court Judge J. Michael Kavanaugh said.

Tucker, a University of New Mexico graduate, is active in the peace movement and the Green Party in New Mexico. He has been quoted extensively on environmental issues.

Gallo is a gardener working on alternative agriculture, McCall said.

Yoder works in alternative energy, McCall added.

McCall said the men took precautions because of the flammable cottonwoods in the area.

``They had spark arresters, buckets of water nearby and hoses in the area along with four fire extinguishers,'' McCall said. ``They called 911 when they saw the fire happening and they tried to put the fire out. They never ran away.''

County firefighters handed control of the blaze Friday to the Forestry Division. Clark said two 20-person hand crews were cutting a fire line. Helicopters dropped water from above until dark.

Mostly underbrush burned in the fire, Clark said.

``Some of the trees were torched, certainly, but for the most part these were ground fires,'' she said.

City and county officials said they were better prepared to deal with this fire than they were when two separate fires broke out in the bosque almost a year ago. Thinning projects also have been completed on many areas along the river.


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