Wind expected to shift Sunday as Dog Head Fire’s growth slows

Type 1 command team will take over Sunday morning

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Roosevelt Middle School’s gym was standing room only for a briefing on the progress of the Dog Head Fire this afternoon. Photo by Leota Harriman.

4:30 p.m. Officials in charge of the Dog Head Fire Type 2 team–a multi-agency crew fighting the blaze–said while the wind has been pushing the fire northeast and east so far, the wind is expected to shift and come from the south Sunday. That could push the fire north depending on conditions.

The fire has been burning since Tuesday, when it started on National Forest Service land near Fourth of July Campground.

In the few days since then, the fire bloomed to 17,000 acres in size, and appears to be growing around 1,000 acres a day right now. That’s according to incident commander of the Type 2 team which took over 48 hours ago, Rich Nieto, who will be handing over the reins to a Type 1 team. That action upgrades the threat of the fire to its highest level.

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A map showing the progression the Dog Head Fire made on June 16.

Nieto said their meteorologist’s prediction is for the wind to shift and blow from south to north. Depending on wind conditions, along with factors like humidity and temperature, that could push the fire north Sunday.

He said it is currently 6 to 7 miles from the Ponderosa Estates area.

Efforts to subdue the fire today were concentrated on the northwest side of the fire, where crews have bulldozed lines, Nieto said. The fire moved eastward closer to the Escabosa area today, extending in long fingers.

That means there are still lots of pockets of unburned trees, which could still catch fire, he said, describing it not as a totally burned-out zone, but a checkerboard of live and burned trees. “There is potential for it to start up again,” Nieto said.

He described today as “a really good day,” and the fire increased in acreage by only 1,000 acres from yesterday. The previous day it had gone from 12,303 to 16,000.

Nieto said, “Right now the wind is in our favor,” and said  the team will be focused on night operations. Referring to high temperatures, he said there is “no relief in sight.”

He said there have been no major injuries, and no loss of life. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

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Rich Nieto silhouetted by a projection of the progress of the fire in stages. The yellow line shows the expansion of the fire on June 16. Photo by Leota Harriman.

Other speakers at the meeting included John Antonio, representing the Southern Pueblos Agency of the BIA, or Bureau of Indian Affairs. The fire has crossed the boundary of Isleta Pueblo, and the pueblo is one of the many government agencies granting authority to the command team to fight the fire.

Antonio said a “great team” is in place that has worked hard for many hours and sleepless nights. He urged people to unify and be prepared to evacuate. “Please get ready,” he said. “We want you to be safe.”

A number of politicians were present at the meeting, including Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson, whose district includes the East Mountains, Rep. Jim Smith, Torrance County Commissioner LeRoy Candelaria, whose district includes the evacuation zone, Tijeras Mayor Gloria Chavez, and Gov. Susana Martinez.

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Gov. Susana Martinez joined the meeting, and had expanded National Guard presence and opened the state fairgrounds to livestock by the time the meeting ended. Photo by Leota Harriman.

As the briefing went on, Martinez was texting on her cell phone, and before the meeting had ended, said she would triple the number of National Guard troops deployed and open the state fairgrounds up to people to bring livestock. That was in response to questions from the audience voicing concern for property left behind and possible theft, and another asking why the state fairgrounds were not already open for that purpose.

That’s in addition to 50 deputies Bernalillo County has patrolling the area, although a few people in the audience voiced doubts about that. “Have you seen any deputies?” one woman said. “I haven’t.”

Martinez said the state is working with the BIA to provide longer-term housing for displaced families than the two shelters currently set up.

Bernalillo County Sheriff Manny Gonzales said the community “has really come out, really listened,” when deputies knocked and told them it was time to evacuate. The county manager said, “We’ll be here til the end,” and said the county’s emergency operations center, or EOC, is open 24 hours at the McGrane Safety Complex.

Bernalillo County Emergency Operations Manager Richard Clark said if people have animals they need to have taken out of the evacuation zone to shelter, they should call 505-468-PETS.

Throughout the meeting, a tense audience peppered speakers with questions. After the presenters were done, officials opened the floor to questions.

A man wondered if the team could “get a clean graphic to the press.” Johnson pointed out that some of the maps were wrong.

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Anxious residents crowded around detailed maps showing the progress of the fire on June 16 and its current parameters. Photo by Leota Harriman.

Another person said the handout he was given “conflicts with what [was] just said,” as one placed his home in a mandatory evacuation zone, and the other a voluntary evacuation zone. “Is it Anaya or 217?” he said.

Johnson said the evacuation zone corresponds with PNM’s electric grid. Because firefighters can’t go into an area where power lines might be downed if they are live, power was cut yesterday afternoon by PNM.

Another person asked officials to “be clear about where the evacuation is,” and Johnson advised that anyone south of Oak Flat Road “start looking at voluntary evacuation.”

Johnson conceded that “information flow has been a problem,” adding that part of the problem is poor cell phone reception in the affected areas.

Sen. Ted Barela, who lives in Estancia and has been part of the response team since Tuesday, said that 24 residential structures and 20 outbuildings have burned, mostly in the area of Aceves Road.

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Gov. Susana Martinez detailing expanded efforts to fight the fire. Bernalillo County Commissioner Wayne Johnson is in the foreground as residents crowded toward the map showing the current boundaries of the fire relative to area roads. Photo by Leota Harriman.

Wrapping up the meeting, Martinez said there will be “over 1,000 boots on the ground by this weekend” in addition to air efforts, which have continued. By the time she spoke, anxious residents had crowded around a large map showing detailed outlines of the fire’s current boundaries, laid over area roads.

After the presentations were done, many people in the audience voiced frustration. A press of people moved to a large map showing in detail where the fire had burned as of 1 a.m., looking for their roads in relation to the fire.

Some of the team doing the presentation stayed behind to answer questions, but most of them left for Estancia, where a second briefing was to be held in Torrance County at 7 p.m.