5 houses, barns burn in New Mexico grass fire

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A wind-driven New Mexico grass fire that has destroyed five houses and several barns, forced evacuations and knocked out power to about 1,000 homes and businesses has tripled in size, but fire crews hoped improved weather conditions would help them Monday, officials said.
More than 100 people at Ruidoso Downs Racetrack and Casino were ordered evacuated Sunday, as were several neighborhoods in the community of Ruidoso Downs. That area is about 200 miles south of Albuquerque.

New Mexico Forestry Division spokesman Dan Ware confirmed that the buildings were damaged by the blaze, which has not been contained. The fire has scorched more than 6,500 acres, or over 9 square miles, on private, state and federal land in southern New Mexico, he said.

The fire continued to threaten buildings, but the forecast calls for lighter winds and lower temperatures Monday, Ware said.

He said he did not know the locations of the burned homes but several barns were destroyed that were east of the Ruidoso Downs Racetrack and Casino, which is home to the All-American Futurity. The race is one of the richest in quarter horse racing: last year’s winner earned $1 million.

“As far as I know, there wasn’t any damage to the track,” Ware told The Associated Press. “Some barns in the area might have been damaged.”

About 125 to 150 customers and staff evacuated from the casino portion, Ruidoso Downs security official Charlie Falke said. The racetrack was closed at the time.

“We didn’t see any flames. We just saw smoke,” he said, adding that neither the track nor the casino was damaged and he expected the casino to reopen Monday.

Among those also under evacuation orders were the Ruidoso Gardens, Spaghetti Flats, River Ranch and Homestead Acres neighborhoods.

The blaze was near the Alto power substation, which serves about 1,000 homes and businesses, said Clint Gardner, a member services manager for Otero County Electric. The extent of damage to the power lines was not immediately known, he said.

The blaze began Sunday afternoon in Gavilan Canyon in Ruidoso. The cause is under investigation.

In the central part of the state, firefighters made progress on another wind-driven wildfire that prompted the evacuation of 50 people from the New Mexico Boys Ranch for underprivileged children, Ware said. That fire grew to about 2,000 acres and was believed to be human caused, he said.

Conditions in the area, which is more than 60 miles south of Albuquerque, were “blowing, smoky, dusty, very, very dry,” said Vicky Fox, a fire information officer. No structures have burned, Fox said.

A third fire that had blackened about 2,000 acres in the Uvas Valley along N.M. 26 was nearing containment, Ware said.

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