UPDATED 9:50 p.m.
Torrance County Sheriff Heath White said the fire looked stable, and deputies are patrolling the areas where people have evacuated.
Arlene Perea of the Forest Service said just before 10 p.m. Tuesday that crews “got a better idea” of the size of the fire, now estimated at 800 to 1,000 acres. She said an infrared flight was possible Tuesday night, which would give a better estimate.
Perea also said that crews coming in on Wednesday would have better capability for measuring the size of the fire.
UPDATED 8 p.m.
An extremely hot, fast-moving and dangerous fire erupted about noon Tuesday some 3 miles west of Chilili in the Manzano Mountains.
The fire is growing rapidly and spreading to the northeast. While this reporter was watching from 7 miles away, the fire flared up, a large black area at the center of the fire doubled in size and bright red flames shot 200 feet into the air.
A heavy pall of smoke hung over Chilili and a strong smell of burning permeated the air just south of the village of about 135 residents.
By 6 p.m. the Dog Head Fire (named for the shape of a section of the Manzano Ranger District that projects from the rest of the national forest) had scorched 70 to 100 acres.
As of 6 p.m. no injuries were reported and no buildings had burned. Around nightfall the fire had died down somewhat.
Al Adams, a firefighter from Torreón, said “The wind dies down here at night and that’s the time to fight a fire.”
Torrance County Sheriff Heath White said between 15 and 18 Torrance County deputies, reserve deputies and volunteers were fanning out in neighborhoods near Fourth of July Canyon to request voluntary evacuations. White said that 50 to 60 residents are being advised to leave the La Parra Road area. Evacuations are also being urged at Camino del Norte, Aceves Road and the Manzano Morning subdivision.
Contrary to some media reports, White said that at no time was evacuation mandatory.
“Camino del Rey area is in immediate danger,” White said. “We’re telling them they need to leave.” He described the procedure as “soft evacuations” in which leaving is voluntary. White also said that while major highways remain open, side roads into the mountains are closed to all non-residents.
At Ray’s One Stop in Tajique, a few miles south of the fire, Ulysses Quesada said he has heard from several residents who had already decided to evacuate and aded that he believed at least a dozen houses near N.M. 337 may be in danger. “But on this side, we’re OK,” he said.
At least one out-of state Hot Shot team is already fighting the fire. It is the 20-member Midewin Interagency Hot shot Team form Wilimington, Ill. Earlier in the day, Forest Service spokeswoman Victoria Fox said two Hot Shot teams were onsite with another team requested.
Also on the scene are Torrance County’s Road and Sheriff’s Departments, the Bernalillo County Fire Department, Cibola National Forest and the Torrance County Fire Department. Torrance County opened a shelter in Estancia, White said, and there are areas in both Estancia and Moriarty that can temporarily hold livestock if any need to be relocated.
East Mountain Pet Alert was offering help to those who have animals if they need to relocate. To find more, search for the organization on Facebook.
Some 120 children and 80 staff members of the Inlow Baptist Camp in Fourth of July Canyon voluntarily evacuated in the early afternoon, and were temporarily relocated to the Torrance County Fairgrounds in Estancia.
The fire was judged to be too dangerous to put firefighters on the ground after the initial response. At the time this story was written, it was being fought entirely form the air by a large 12,000-gallon tanker and two helicopters, an old Marine H46 and a Hue. The copters had buckets to draw water up form nearby Manzano Lake. The tanker was seen circling the fire and spreading red-dyed retardant over the blaze.
The fire began in a wood-gathering area just south of Isleta Pueblo. The slash left on the ground was fueling the blaze. None of the officials and firefighters questioned Tuesday knew how the fire started.
One resident of Manzano shopping at Ray’s said he thought it a camper started it. “That’s a fire that never should have gotten started,” he said angrily.
Chris Gober, a division chief with the Bernalillo County Fire Department and several firefighters from Albuquerque were parked in Chilili about 3 miles from the fire. He said they were stationed there to provide “structure protection” in case the fire moved to Chilili.
Dave Shell, public information officer with the East Mountain Interagency Fire Protection Association, estimated the fire had grown from 6 acres to 100 acres in its first six hours. “It’s extremely hot,” he said. “We can’t put firefighters in there. We’ll fight it from the air and try to box it in from the sides.”
He said the effort was currently under the command of a Type 3 local management team but that could change as the number of firefighters and the amount of equipment mushrooms.
Wednesday at 6 p.m., a Type 2 Team will take over management of the fire. That was also according to Virginia Fox of the Forest Service, who said the team was interagency with fire management expertise.
As of press time, the fire was at zero percent containment.
For updates, visit edgewood.news.