LAFD: Fire near apartments started ‘intentionally’

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Police opens arson investigation into Sunday’s fire

By Tris DeRoma

Police have opened an arson investigation into a brush fire that broke out near the Ponderosa Pines Apartments on Trinity Drive in Los Alamos about 4:45 p.m. Sunday.

“It appears to have been started intentionally.  Evidence has been gathered and LAPD is investigating,” Los Alamos Fire Department Fire Marshal Jeffrey Wetteland said.

The brushfire could have caused a disaster Sunday if it weren’t for the quick actions of the Los Alamos Fire Department.

A brush fire in the woodlands, between the Larry R. Walkup Center and the Ponderosa Pines Apartments grew to about 15 by 25 feet before fire crews put it out.

“It wasn’t real big, but there was definite potential for spread given how dry everything is,” Los Alamos Fire Department Deputy Chief Steven Dawald said.

Dawald said in such dry conditions, a fast response is crucial.

“If it’s not found quickly and the winds pick up we can definitely get into a dangerous situation, especially with the apartment complex being to the south of the fire,” Dawald said.
Plateau Property Management Property Manager Mike Lipiatt was grateful for the Los Alamos Fire Department’s quick response.

“With as dry as everything is, and the high winds, we were very fortunate that the Los Alamos Fire Department responded extremely fast and were able to get the fire out in short order,” Lipiatt said in a letter sent out to apartment residents in the area.

According to Dawald, the fire started at approximately 4:45 p.m. Sunday.

Though the fire appears to be purposely set, Lipiatt also recommended that people use common sense when out hiking or engaging in other outdoor activities.

“With the extreme dryness and wind, it doesn’t take long at all for a smoldering cigarette to turn into a four-alarm blaze,” Lipiatt said in the letter. “It is very important for all of us to join together and take the necessary steps to keep our community safe and clear of fires.”

Dawald also speculated that if conditions don’t improve soon, it’s likely the state could implement further restrictions on outdoor activity.

“We’re very likely going to fall into a stage II restriction if we keep on the path we’re going, with the lack of moisture.” Dawald said. Dawald spoke to the Los Alamos Monitor before the fire department determined it might be arson.

For now, barbecues can still be used, but fire officials recommend the barbecue or grill be placed on a concrete or stone surface, with plenty of clearance all around.  They also suggest always having a supply of water handy.

“We also recommend having a bucket of water or a hose handy any time there’s any type of fire. Just in case something does get out of control they can get on top of it very quickly,” Dawald said.

Los Alamos entered into a stage I fire restrictions April 13. That means smoking is prohibited outside of enclosed vehicles or buildings or camp and recreation sites within a three-foot radius.

If the county enters stage II restrictions this spring or summer, residents  will not be allowed to use fireworks, have a campfire, charcoal, or stove fire, operate gasoline powered equipment such as chainsaws or drive a motor vehicle off road  on federal lands. For more information on Stage I and II restrictions, log onto nmfireinfo.com/information.

Residents can also call 1-877-864-6985 for more information.