Fire crews from several different agencies jumped into action Wednesday morning after officials say a woman who appeared to be suffering from a mental illness lit 12 fires across 5 acres in the bosque south of the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
She was taken into custody near Second and Woodward SW.
An Albuquerque Police Department spokesman said Cristina Castorena-Noble, 46, will be booked into jail on charges of battery on a peace officer and arson once she is medically cleared. She was taken to the hospital for a mental health evaluation.
When reached by the Journal on Wednesday evening, Castorena-Noble’s daughter and mother said she had an extremely hard life marked by tragedy, abuse, the death of her brother and son, and drug and alcohol abuse.
They said that when they heard about the fires, they had worried she might be responsible and recalled that she had previously been charged with setting fires in May 2020. At that time, she told authorities and her family several different stories about why she did it, including that God told her to.
That case, as well as many other misdemeanor and felony cases, was dismissed when Castorena-Noble was found to be incompetent.
“I had her living with me for about nine months, since she got out of jail in May 2021,” said Castorena-Noble’s daughter, Breanna Noble. “She was doing a great job. She has a tendency to be naturally loving and caring. She tried to get clean and stay clean, and get help.”
But her mother ended up relapsing and soon became homeless again, Noble said.
Wednesday’s fires highlight the dangers the approximately 20-mile-long riparian forest faces due to extremely dry conditions.
But Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller stressed that the city is not going to close the area to the public and it’s actually safer to have people around who can call in suspicious activity.
“That’s time and time again been proven much more effective than closing the bosque,” Keller said at a briefing at the scene. “Because it’s obviously very hard to actually maintain that perimeter. What we want is more people using it, coming down here and calling right away if they see anything.”
That’s exactly what happened Wednesday.
Albuquerque Fire Rescue Chief Gene Gallegos said a family walking in the area and a school resource officer made the call around 9:15 a.m. saying they saw “the individual starting the fire” and that “the person was going south and continued to light spot fires.”
APD’s helicopter unit also saw Castorena-Noble setting fires, and helped officers find her and take her into custody, according to a police spokesman.
Gallegos said AFR and Bernalillo County Fire Department had 16 crews on scene, and a crew from Oregon — on standby due to the current fire conditions — also responded. He said there were a total of 70 personnel working in the bosque and the fires were under control by noon.
“We’re just mopping up the entire area so that we can prevent it from getting bigger and spreading any more,” Gallegos said, adding that Bernalillo County’s Metro One air unit was dropping water on hot spots.
He said crews will also be on patrol in the area through at least September.
Keller said AFR has two units helping to fight the massive fires up north. But he said they did not send everything in terms of the wildland resources because they also wanted to be able to protect the bosque, open space and foothills area.
“I think it’s just a credit to planning and management, to leadership in our fire departments, to make sure that we can do anything we can up north, but also make sure we can protect the bosque,” Keller said. “And that’s exactly what we’ve done today.”
Carlos Hernandez, 70, was running on the bosque trails when he saw the fire and, along with another man, attempted to put it out.
He then saw police rush past him and take a woman into custody. Hernandez said it was sad to see the fire, and he urged everyone to be alert and careful.
“New Mexico is beautiful, but with all the fires and everything,” Hernandez said. “It’s a beautiful place, there’s a lot of wildlife out here. When I saw the fire, I was thinking of all the porcupines, the animals.”
Journal staff photographer Adolphe Pierre-Louis contributed to this report.