Crews race to build bigger buffers around NM fires

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By Susan M. Bryan

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — With changes in the weather fast approaching, firefighters raced Thursday to build bigger buffers around a pair of wildfires that have charred more than 35 square miles of tinder-dry forest in northern New Mexico.

Forecasters are predicting hot, dry and windy weather to move into New Mexico by the end of the week. The conditions are expected to last a few days, meaning fire behavior will be intense.

On the Valles Caldera National Preserve, crews battling the Thompson Ridge Fire were focusing on getting ahead of the blaze to burn vegetation and other forest debris in hopes of creating a break that would serve to starve the flames as they advance.

"We want to get that work done before it starts to rage again," said fire information officer Peter D'Aquanni.

The Thompson Ridge Fire has charred more than 20 square miles north of Jemez Springs since being sparked last Friday by a downed power line. It forced the evacuation of homes in the Thompson Ridge, Rancho de la Cueva and Elk Valley areas.

As of Thursday evening, crews had contained only 10 percent of the fire. D'Aquanni said firefighters were completing a line around the fire and they planned to spend the next two days bolstering that line.

In recent days, high humidity levels and lower temperatures have helped crews on both the Thompson Ridge Fire and the Tres Lagunas Fire, which is burning about 10 miles north of Pecos on the opposite side of the Santa Fe National Forest.

Weather conditions have limited some burnout operations on the Tres Lagunas blaze, but officials said firefighters were still building lines to the northwest of Holy Ghost Canyon and around spot fires that have started along the southeastern edge of the fire.

The fire was 34 percent contained Thursday evening. Sparked by a downed power line one week ago, the fire has burned more than 15 square miles.

Fire officials said the cost of fighting each of the fires has surpassed $2.7 million. About 2,000 firefighters and support personnel have been assigned to the fires along a fleet of air tankers, helicopters and engines.