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El Cajete Fire 80 percent contained

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U.S. Forest Service looking into who left abandoned campfire that started 1300-acre blase

By Tris DeRoma

The El Cajete Fire is 80 percent contained, the roads are open and everyone that was evacuated was back in their homes by Sunday night, according to officials with the California Interagency Incident Management Team, the command that has been overseeing the fire.

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There were 323 fire personnel working the fire Sunday.

“Everything is good, everything is progressing as expected and we’re at 80 percent containment,” California Interagency Incident Commander Mark von Tillow told community members assembled at the Jemez Mountain Baptist Church Sunday evening. “We will continue on working securing the line, mopping up the places where we built a line, controlling monitoring, making sure nothing gets out.”

The bulk of the fire is between NM 4 and Los Griegos Peak.

The California Interagency Incident Management Team is also watching the weather, as thunderstorms are expected in the area in the next few days.

“We are making sure everything’s secured and that we’re ready to respond to anything happening in the area if we have to,” von Tillow said. 

After the fire is fully contained, rehabilitation work should begin this week. According to fire officials, the fire, for the most part was a ground fire. The fire did not reach the crowns of the trees. Erosion control will be the operation’s next phase.

“We’ll be doing fireline rehab. We want to get in there, put brush over the fireline so that will start seeding again, build water bars (erosion control devices) if we need to,” CIIMT Public Information Officer Mike Linbery said.

Monday, the management team expected to reach 95 percent containment. When it gets to that point, then rehabilitation of the land is expected to begin in earnest. The team will then probably wait out that last 5 percent for safety reasons.

“In this case, this fire plays to our policy of ‘life first,’ which means we’re not going to put people in places where they are in potential danger for very little risk, for very little gain.” Linbery said.

The problem area is right where the Las Conchas scar begins.

“We may just observe it for a few days and make sure it’s dead out and it’s not moving anywhere. We may even do a couple of waterdrops to really soak it down,” Linbery said. “We’ll do everything short of putting people in there. If we can insert people in there and still be safe, we will certainly do that too.”

The U.S. Forest Service has started an investigation around the abandoned campfire that started the 1,000-acre El Cajete Fire Thursday. So far, no leads. The fire started around mile marker 33 on NM 4 in the Jemez Mountains.

“Forest Service investigators are working on that now,” Jemez District Ranger Brian Riley said. “They do know that it was an abandoned, escaped campfire.”

The U.S. Forest Service will also be bringing on some extra law enforcement officers for the summer.

The Jemez Ranger District will also be getting it’s own full time law enforcement officer in November.

“In the meantime we’ve asked for two detail law enforcement officers, and hopefully they will be here tomorrow,” Santa Fe National Forest District Ranger Brian Riley said at the briefing.

The district will also be deploying three forest protection officers to patrol the Jemez district and the campgrounds within it.