A fire burning in the Jemez has torched more than 15,000 acres, destroyed three homes and is 15% contained as of Saturday morning.
Santa Fe National Forest spokeswoman Julie Overton said the Cerro Pelado Fire, which sparked on April 22, is burning seven miles east of Jemez Springs.
Hundreds of firefighters on Saturday mopped up the northwest to southwest side of the blaze and will move east to increase containment.
Overton said the cause of the fire is under investigation.
The team battling the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire has come to dread Fridays, and for good reason.
Over much of the following week, crews began getting their arms around the raging beast – and then came another Friday when extreme winds again caused the fire to explode and burn another 35,000 acres and cover 15 miles of ground in the course of a day.
Incident commander Carl Schwope on Saturday evening said the fire “could easily double in size” before it’s contained. He warned people to be ready to evacuate if the time comes.
“Folks who originally saw fire way on the horizon when it started a few weeks ago, it’s now right here – I need folks to think about that, ” he said. “Now it may be right in your backyard and, weeks from now, maybe it’s in somebody else’s backyard.”
Fire officials lamented Friday’s immense fire growth in the south but touted the successes of crews holding back the blaze from communities in the north. Looking ahead, meteorologists and fire behavior analysts predicted more windy and difficult days.
Schwope said as the fire moves south of Las Vegas, the smoke will be “in town every night.”
The explosive growth Friday had New Mexico State Police officers and other members of law enforcement frantically banging on doors and telling people to flee their homes in areas not previously believed to be in play. Students at the United World College in Montezuma and residents in areas like Los Vigiles, a small community just outside Las Vegas, were among people told to leave Friday afternoon.
San Miguel County Sheriff Chris Lopez said that evacuation orders will likely continue if the wind direction resumes its path from Friday as predicted. He asked that residents cooperate with those orders.
“Just understand that it’s for the best and it’s for keeping you all safe,” he said.