Romero Fire Burns Out of Control in Corrales, New Mexico

June 21, 2012
By

View of the Romero Fire from Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Photo by Darla Sue Dollman.

Firefighters from the Albuquerque Fire Department, Bernalillo County Fire Department, Corrales Fire Department, Santa Fe Fire Department and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are battling strong winds and extreme heat in a desperate fight to extinguish a line of “pocket” wildfires in the Rio Grande Bosque moving across both sides of the Rio Grande River from Bernalillo, Corrales, and the outer edges of Rio Rancho, New Mexico.

The fire, now named the Romero Fire, started near or in Corrales around 3 p.m. on June 20, 2012 and quickly consumed ten acres of drought-parched land. By 8:30 p.m. the fire had expanded to 100 acres. For most of the day, the fire was too hot for ground crews so firefighters were working on the blaze by air with two planes dropping fire retardant, a helicopter and water bucket on loan from the Santa Fe National Forest, and a Black Hawk helicopter and bucket from the National Guard.

As the fire began it was moving to the south and threatened 150 homes. The Sandia Lakes Recreation Area was evacuated and the people of Corrales were advised to prepare to evacuate their horses and livestock. Then the fire appeared to change direction and toward the end of the afternoon most of the fire activity was on the north end moving toward the Corrales/Rio Rancho border.

Susan Fisher and her son, Kenneth, live in the Rivers Edge I Subdivision at the northern border of Rio Rancho and Corrales. Kenneth Fisher called the fire department as soon as he saw the smoke. “I asked if we should evacuate,” he said. “We were told to be prepared for evacuation, but we are not under evacuation orders yet.”

The Fisher family has lived in the area for 17 years. In spite of their experience with the dry Southwest weather, “This is the closest I’ve ever been to a wildfire,” Susan Fisher explained as she stood on a hillside outside the subdivision watching the smoke change from black to gray to an odd shade of orange and an endless rotation of helicopters dropping water and planes dropping fire retardant. “I’ll be watching the fire closely all night,” she said. “When it gets dark, we will stay close to the phone and television. We’re still debating on whether or not we should start packing.”

By late evening, reports from the frontlines stated that the fires on the west side were 70% controlled, but the east side fires still had zero containment. An update at 3 a.m. said the west side fire had increased to 80% containment. Thankfully there were no reports of lost structures, but the evening forecast does not bode well for the Romero Fire. Early in the afternoon of June 20, 2012, temperatures reached 100 degrees for the first time in a year with 3% humidity, but there is a cold front moving in over the Sandia Mountains and the county is under a high wind advisory with a warning of possible wind gusts as high as 50 mph.

For a short time, Fourth Street was closed from Alameda Blvd. to Alameda Road, then portions of Corrales Road were closed, as well, but the evening reports stated Corrales Road was reopened, which should help with the continued evacuation of livestock. The Sandoval County Sheriff’s Posse opened an arena in Bernalillo for evacuated animals. The New Mexico State Fairgrounds was also opened for livestock evacuations. Although Corrales residents were still not evacuated by 8:30 in the evening, many were choosing to do so, particularly those with large animals.

The fire is described as a “plume dominated fire,” which is a fire with activity determined by the convection column. In other words, the burning vegetation has created its own air mass with twisting winds.

Firefighters are hoping this will not happen, but suspect that overnight, with the predicted 50 mph gusts, the fire will become a far more dangerous wind-dominated fire.

It has been a difficult wildfire year for New Mexico already. There are still three major fires burning in the state. The Blanco Fire in the Four Corners area, which was caused by an illegal campfire on Monday afternoon, June 18, 2012, near Bloomfield, New Mexico, has consumed five homes and burned 352 acres. The Blanco Fire is now 85% contained.

At last report, containment lines are still holding on the Little Bear Fire in the Lincoln National Forest near Ruidoso, New Mexico. Fire crews consisting of 1100 firefighters are now working on burnout operations, burning any remaining vegetation to rob the fire of fuel that could cause a flare-up that might bring the fire back over containment lines. The Little Bear Fire is 62% contained after consuming nearly 42,000 acres and destroying 242 homes and businesses. The Little Bear Fire was sparked by lightning.

And finally, the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire is now 87% contained after burning more than 296, 562 acres. The Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire is the largest wildfire in recorded New Mexico State history.  The fire started on May 16, 2012, at approximately 10:25 a.m. according to the US Forest Service Incident Information System, or InciWeb.  On June 19, 2012, the south end of the fire grew an additional 254 acres approaching the bottom of Turkey Creek. Firefighters are successfully holding the fire north of the Gila River and west of the Old Miller fire burn area. The fire is in the Gila National Forest and management of the fire has been returned to the Gila Forest.

Photo by Darla Sue Dollman

Flames could be seen above the tops of trees in Corrales, New Mexico.

Photo by Darla Sue Dollman

Two planes alternated dropping fire retardant on the north and south ends of the Romero Fire.

Photo by Darla Sue Dollman

A fire truck races toward Corrales Road. The Bosque, and Romero Fire, is behind Corrales and close to many homes and businesses.

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