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N.M. fires force 1,300 to evacuate

Published Sep. 2, 2005

Wind-whipped grass fires pushed into affluent residential areas in the pine-studded southern New Mexico mountains Saturday, burning at least 32 homes and forcing more than 1,300 residents to evacuate.

Two fires consumed at least 3,400 acres, including 1,000 acres in the Kokopelli Fire, named after a subdivision where the homes burned, firefighters said. A blaze called the 5-2 Fire, which started on the Mescalero Apache reservation, burned about 2,400 acres, the state Public Safety Department said.

No injuries have been reported, officials said.

The Kokopelli fire, possibly arson, started around noon in a residential driveway, Lincoln County sheriff Tom Sullivan said.

"It's very suspicious the way it started," Sullivan said. "It's just in an area where there wasn't anybody around. We're just not sure why it got started there."

Terri Wildermuth, spokeswoman for the state Forestry Division, said the Kokopelli fire was "human caused" but declined to elaborate. She said the cause of the other fire had not been determined.

Three air tankers dropped retardant, but intense winds caused planes and helicopters to be grounded, said Gwen Shaffer, Forest Service spokeswoman.