Update: Monday (Oct. 19) The size of the Luna fire was reduced to 6,385 after additional mapping, according to the Fire, Weather and Avalanche Center.
A forest fire that started Saturday night (Oct. 17) within rugged canyons in the Carson National Forest a few miles north-northeast of Chacon, New Mexico had burned more than 7,400 acres by Sunday midday, but little new official information had been released by fire officials since 9:30 a.m.
Multiple reports that the Luna fire was preceded by a plane crash remain unconfirmed by state police or and other law enforcement.
Fire officials were still investigating the cause of the fire Sunday morning. No one from the Carson National Forest responded to emails or phone calls - or voice mail boxes were full - seeking an update Sunday evening. No information was available on nmfireinfo.org. The Southwest Coordination Center had a hot spot map showing the extent of the fire, but little other information. No new information was posted to the Fire, Weather and Avalanche Center website that had been tracking the fire.
People in the area and who spotted the smoke and flames from the fire Saturday evening in Taos provided a timeline.
Outfitter James Duran spotted a smoke plume and flames from the family ranch in Luna Canyon around 7:15 p.m. Saturday night. Duran, his father Martín Duran and friends spent all night digging fire line around their homes in the canyon in case the fire moved closer.
Around 7 p.m., people in the Taos Valley and near Chacon posted photos of the red glow from the flames. Some said they heard what sounded like an explosion before seeing the flames and wondered if a plane had gone down. But the incident report list kept by the Federal Aviation Administration was up to date only through Friday (Oct. 16). Messages left seeking information with the FAA and the U.S. Air Force had not been returned Sunday night.
The fire was reported to the Taos Interagency Dispatch Center between 7 and 8 p.m. Saturday.
At 9:36 p.m. "New Mexico State Police received a report of a low flying aircraft and a loud bang near the La Junta Canyon in Mora County," said State Police public information officer Dusty Francisco. "New Mexico State Police officers with the assistance of the Mora County Sheriff’s Department, U.S. Forestry, and local Fire Departments have attempted to search the area but due to the rugged terrain they were unable to locate anything. The New Mexico State Police Helicopter also assisted in the search, but due to the heavy smoke in the area the flight crew were unable to locate anything."
At 10:30 p.m., Albuquerque resident Marcus Casias and a friend were camping with their two dogs five miles up La Junta Canyon at Duran Campground when someone drove through shouting at them to get out because of a fire.
"We couldn't see flames but there was a faint orange glow in the distance and the smell of burning wood like a crisp campfire, so it was close but not on top of us," Casias said. The people who alerted them to get out were further up the camper and said they were "right on top of it and it was a rager."
"It's a very scary situation for a stranger to wake you up in the middle of the night yelling 'forest fire, 5 miles up,'" said Casias after he and his family were safely back home.
The fire was reported at 500 acres Saturday night, 1,000 acres at 8 a.m. Sunday and then 7,445 acres before noon after fire managers had an opportunity to fly over and map the blaze. It was burning in portions of La Junta, Luna and other nearby canyons through dense, mixed spruce and ponderosa pine. No information was available Sunday night from fire information sources about whether the fire was at all contained.
By 5 p.m., Martin Duran posted on Facebook that the fire was nearing 8,000 acres but had not moved much closer to the ranch. "Me, James Duran and my cousin Alex Christopher Cruz are hunkered down, holding down the fort and just watching and waiting to see what the fire is going to do," he posted.
No communities were known to have been evacuated as of Sunday night. People are asked to avoid Forest Road 76 due to the fire and the need for fire resources to access the area. Eagle Nest Lake was closed to boater so the water could be used by aerial support as needed.
Freelance journalist Rick Romancito contributed to this report.