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Wildfire in New Mexico Destroys 15 Homes

New Mexico officials say winds were picking up Tuesday afternoon, renewing concerns about a wildfire that has destroyed up to 15 homes and forced the evacuations of 100 people.

SILVER CITY, N.M. -- New Mexico officials say winds were picking up Tuesday afternoon, renewing concerns about a wildfire that has destroyed up to 15 homes and forced the evacuations of 100 people.

State Forestry spokesman Dan Ware said the fire in a rugged rural area south of Silver City had burned nearly 1,800 acres, or almost 3 square miles, by Tuesday. That's up from 500-1,000 acres burned as of Monday night.

Fire crews dealt with hot spots throughout Tuesday morning when fire activity was light, and two air tankers dropped fire retardant on the flames. High winds had prevented water-dropping helicopters or planes from flying after the blaze started Monday afternoon.

Officials told a noon public meeting in Silver City they could not yet say what individual buildings had burned as the flames scorched through grass, scrub oak and pinon and juniper trees.

Ware said crews on the ground have been assessing what was lost or damaged before meeting privately with homeowners.

The fire was threatening an estimated 500 structures, not all of them homes.

It was listed as 20 percent contained Tuesday. Officials hoped to have it fully contained by 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Authorities say the Quail Ridge fire is human caused, but they have not made an exact determination of how it happened.

"It was a wind-driven event that put us in a defensive mode," said Grant County fire management officer Gary Benavidez told the Silver City Daily Press. "(The fire) ran through that grass savannah extremely fast. It went over Quail Ridge Road like it wasn't even there."

Benavidez, who has had a long career in fire management, called the fire a worst-case scenario.

"It's the fire we've been talking about for years that could happen," he said. "This is what we've been trying to prevent. We've got a lot of fuels (dry grass and other vegetation), and we're in a drought."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency early Tuesday approved a grant that will cover 75 percent of the cost of fighting the fire.

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