Update: Oct. 22, 9 a.m. The size of the fire was mapped at 10,300 acres by Thursday morning, according to information on Inciweb provided by the Carson National Forest.
Chacon, N.M. – As smoke from the Luna Fire filled Luna Canyon Wednesday morning (Oct. 21), rancher Martin Duran was packing up the last of the family's belongings and said he had already moved his cattle to safety.
He had to go back to retrieve one last calf. He wasn't evacuating his property yet, but as the fire burned closer down the canyon toward the ranch, he wanted to be ready. Duran said that his wife had headed to their house in Las Vegas, while his son and two stepsons will be sticking it out until they "force us to leave."
His adjacent neighbor in Luna Canyon, Andrew Sandoval, said he won't be leaving either. Sandoval said that he plans to stand his ground and save his property. "They'd have to come and pull me out," he joked half-heartedly.
Both Duran and Sandoval have spent the last few days protecting their properties from the fire - which started Saturday (Oct. 17) around dusk - by digging 30-foot fire protection lines with bulldozers and other equipment with the help of friends and family.
By Wednesday morning, the fire had burned through 8,000 acres - some 16 miles southeast of Taos - and grown much closer to the small unincorporated town of Chacon, just 2 miles away from one edge of the fire. The estimated amount of burned acreage continues to go up and down - from 7,400 (Oct. 20) to estimate as high as of 9,500, according to fire personnel.
The fire was zero percent contained and what ignited it was still unknown. On Wednesday morning, a Type 1 management team from California came in to assist the Carson National Forest Service, and other state and local agencies combating the blaze - totaling about 138 fire personnel on-site at the fire.
The fire is burning through brush and timber at 9,000- to 11,000-feet elevation on private and Carson National Forest property. Firefighters and personnel from local, state and federal agencies are working to contain the blaze before it reaches homes and other resources. The public is also urged to stay away from public road FR-76.
On Tuesday, helicopters buzzed overhead, dropping water on the fire that looked to be creeping south down Luna Canyon. On Tuesday night, the smoke plume grew in size, becoming large enough to be seen from the town of Taos, about 16 miles away, according to official fire reports.
The fire on Tuesday had shown "extreme fire behavior with torching, short crown runs (in tree tops) and long-range spotting" of embers, according to an update from the National Interagency Coordination Center.
The National Weather Service in Albuquerque predicted gusty winds, high temperatures and dry conditions today (Oct. 22), which could increase the fire's activity. Officials said that the windier conditions on Thursday may potentially inflame the fire and expand to create new smoke-affected areas.
Residents of Chacon, Mora, Guadalupita and Angel Fire have all been considering the potential danger to their towns and properties. Sandoval said that the fire is currently a little over a mile away from his home, and he foresees an evacuation order coming. "The west flank of the fire was very active," he said, "despite relentless water drops by Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters."
Surrounding areas also find themselves in new waters with this fire. Angel Fire Mayor Jo Mixon held a village meeting in the Black parking lot near Angel Fire Resort on Tuesday (Oct. 20) and told residents and visitors not to panic. She said that based on their most recent reports, the fire is not expected to head toward Angel Fire, but that she expects a change in weather patterns to potentially bring smoke into the valley.
Village manager Jay Mitchell echoed that warning. "We are expecting smoke," said Mitchell of the coming days' forecast. With the change in weather, Mitchell said that there is a high possibility of smoky air entering the valley. Mitchell, Mixon and Fire and EMS Chief John Murtagh all urged residents with underlying health conditions to voluntarily evacuate the area. "It's much easier to evacuate 1,000 people than it is 3,000 people," said Mixon.
Duran and Sandoval, meanwhile, going on little sleep for the last three days, are waiting - watching the skyline and wondering what the fire will do next.