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CNN Today

New Mexico Fire: High Winds Add Fuel to Fast-Moving Flames

Aired May 17, 2000 - 2:17 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Los Alamos fire is the largest in New Mexico's history and still spreading, and fire fighters are doing their best to hold on to the ground they have gained against these fast-moving flames.

CNN's Martin Savidge is in Los Alamos with the latest for us -- Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE. CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, we're at the Espanola base camp, sometimes referred to as the "northern" base camp. It is home to about 625 firefighters, most of whom are right now out on the fire lines battling the blaze. They have got that blaze about 45 percent contained as of the last report.

The big story, though, today, the same one that threatened yesterday. It is the winds. This is another red flag day, meaning conditions are right for the fire to possibly spread. Wind gust have been quite strong up here at this base camp, and with the cooler temperatures. it is sort of impacting on the comfort level here, kicking up a lot of dust, a lot of debris in the air. It is also making the job difficult for firefighters.

The only good aspect of that wind, if it had to blow, it is blowing from right direction, forcing the fire back on to itself in areas that have already been burned.

The big battle is going on in Santa Clara Canyon. Let me sort of point out where that is to you in the terrain here. Santa Clara Canyon is located in the distance. You will see that there are two mountain peeks back there. The canyon is in between here and there, very steep, very rugged, very difficult terrain. It is where the heat of the fire is located. That canyon sort of acting as an incubator and a nursery keeping the fire going.

The worry is that if embers, which could fly a long distance in this wind, were to get up on those mountain sides, you can see by their dark color, there is a lot of trees out there. a lot of fuel. And if the fires spread up there, well, it would be off to the races once more.

The only positive aspect is, there aren't a lot of homes or a lot of communities on the other side of those mountains that would be threatened if the fire were to spread. Still, Santa Clara Canyon is important not just because it is where the battle is being fought, very important land for the Native Americans that live in this area, as Alvin Warren points out to us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALVIN WARREN, FIRE INFORMATION OFFICER, SANTA CLARA PUEBLO: We're estimating that at least a third or approximately a third of the Santa Clara Canyon, the watershed that our community depends on, has been impacted by this fire, and probably approximately 20 percent of our entire reservation. The canyon is where our people fish and hunt. That is where they graze their cattle, collect various resources for our daily life. We don't have any other lands. We don't have another canyon to go to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: So the winds continuing to blow here in New Mexico, but we are told that, so far, the fire has not been able to break out of the containment areas. That is the best news of all, if they can get through today, things start to improve, the winds will die down, and then they really do believe they could get a good handle on this fire.

So far, though, no one is talking about a time or a date when this fire would be fully contained.

Reporting live, Martin Savidge, CNN, Espanola, New Mexico.

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