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Fast-Moving Blaze Causes Evacuations

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File photo of flames from a wildfire. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

File photo of flames from a wildfire. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

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PECOS, N.M. (AP) — As firefighters gained ground Friday on a wildfire in the mountains north of Los Angeles, another blaze flared up in the West. A fast-moving fire in New Mexico’s Santa Fe National Forest prompted evacuations of residences and campgrounds, threatened cabins and vacation homes, and closed a highway.

Officials asked residents in 140 homes — mostly used for the summer — to evacuate as crews battled the 1,000-acre blaze near the communities of Pecos and Tres Lagunas, about 25 miles west of Santa Fe. They also evacuated campgrounds and closed hiking trailheads around Pecos, Las Vegas and Santa as they worked on containment lines in hopes of preventing the first from moving toward the capital city’s watershed and the res Lagunas community.

New Mexico State Forestry spokesman Dan Ware said the evacuations came after the fire jumped N.M. Highway 63. Officials say a downed power line ignited the blaze Thursday. “Fire activity is picking up this morning and because of expected high winds, low humidity and increasing temperatures, the spread potential is high,” Ware said.

It’s the first major wildfire this year in New Mexico, which is in its driest two-year period in nearly 120 years of record-keeping.

“It has been a slow start to the season, until this point,” said State Forester Tony Delphin. “Now we expect the conditions to go on until the monsoons come or the weather changes the pattern.

Gov. Susana Martinez said about 40 people, mostly hikers and campers, had been evacuated from the area.

Meanwhile, crews battling the fire north of Los Angeles took advantage of cool morning weather Friday to make progress but scattered flames continued to climb hillsides.

The 1,400-acre wildfire was 15 percent contained and as many as 500 firefighters hoped to make further progress before the day turned hot and dry, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Nathan Judy said.

A flare-up prompted authorities to briefly evacuate about 25 homes along a canyon road in the Angeles National Forest in the morning, but residents were later allowed to return.

“Right now the fire’s not doing a whole lot. It’s just making small runs here and there,” Judy said. “There’s no large fire front.”

He said the blaze is burning near power lines, although utilities report no damage.

In New Mexico Friday morning, one helicopter helped with efforts to secure the western perimeter of the fire, but it was grounded by late morning due to high winds.

Nearly 300 firefighters were working on the blaze, which was being fueled by winds from the north and northwest.

Duane Archuleta, forest fire management officer for the Santa Fe and Carson National Forest, said if winds pushed the blaze toward an area that burned in the 2000 Viveash fire, it might help their efforts to contain it.

“The fire could run and hit that ridge and kind of die out on that ridge,” he said.

No structures had burned and no injuries were reported, but the fire was burning near Tres Lagunas, an upscale community of cabins and vacation homes.

“They’re really working that hard and holding onto that,” Archuleta said

Among those evacuated were a group of seventh-graders staying at the Panchuela Campground.

Some homeowners in the Pecos Canyon area couldn’t reach their houses Thursday because emergency crews had closed off N.M. 63. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported many cars turned around, while others parked alongside on the shoulder with the hope that the road would reopen.

Tracy Bennett, manager of Hidden Valley Ranch, said he evacuated the people on the ranch as soon he saw smoke. He also said the power went out there around 3:30 p.m.

“I got my people out of here,” he said. “They were quite alarmed.”

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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