Massive fire all but contained (Updated)

Freedom New Mexico

Firefighters from more than 30 departments struggled most of Sunday to contain a massive grass fire that erupted near Melrose and quickly spread through Curry and Roosevelt counties, damaging homes and forcing several evacuations near Clovis and Portales.

The fire started about 11:30 a.m. after a tire on a vehicle blew out and sparks from the wheel set nearby grass ablaze. It had burned an estimated 17,000 acres, fanned by wind gusts of up to 30 mph that frequently changed directions.

According to Clovis Emergency Management Director Ken De Los Santos, the fire on New Mexico Highway 467 was nearly 90 percent contained as of 10 p.m. and firefighters were “wrapping up” the situation.

Capt. Karen Burns of the Clovis Fire Department said a few structures were burned along Highway 467 but the exact number and amount of damage are unknown. Burns and Fire Chief Ray Westerman said firefighting crews planned to stay overnight to watch hotspots and ensure the fire is contained.

“The wind has calmed down considerably and that has really helped,” Westerman said

Burns also said food and water donations are no longer needed for firefighters, evacuations have ceased and people are returning to their homes.

Families were being directed to Central Baptist Church and First Baptist Church in Clovis.

Portales police said residents living between N.M. 467 and Highway 70 were evacuated.
Evacuated families were directed to the First Baptist Church in Portales.

South Curry County resident Becky Lewis said her family had been watching the fire from their homes all afternoon and just after 3 p.m. made the decision to load up their animals.
With horse trailers, trucks and cars lined along Curry Road S, ready to drive north if needed, they were waiting and watching the fire.

“We’re just being careful,” she said, estimating the fire was about one to two miles south of her family’s four homes on Curry Road T.

“We got the things out of there that were living.”

The Lewis family loaded up 16 horses and, “a lot of dogs,” and were prepared to turn their cattle out if the fire got close, she said.

Officials also evacuated workers at the Southwest Cheese plant as a precaution but later allowed them to return.

A spokesperson for Cannon Air Force Base said there was no fire damage to the base. The spokesperson said the base fire department assisted in extinguishing a small blaze south of the base, a flare apparently set off by the main fire.

Curry County Undersheriff Wesley Waller said three firefighters were taken to the Plains Regional Medical Center