After burning for nearly a week, the Donaldson Complex Fire was declared 50 percent contained Sunday, with 96,745 acres burned, one home lost and an additional 80 structures still considered “threatened.”
The Donaldson Fire was sparked by lighting in the early hours of June 28 and was initially two fires, the Game and the Donaldson, which merged during the first day.
Plagued by fires across the state, including the massive Las Conchas Fire fire that threated the Los Alamos National Laboratory, firefighters were spread thin during the initial hours and days of fighting the blaze, allowing it to rapidly advance toward residential areas.
By Wednesday, residents of the Alamo Canyon area were evacuated to shelter at the Hondo School as firefighters struggled with high winds, tall grass, and rugged conditions in their efforts to contain the fire.
On Thursday, at a public meeting in San Patricio, Type III Incident Commander EddieTudor stressed, “We’re stretched too thin. This is a big fire and there’s a lot of ground to cover.”
Tudor noted that while many available units had been assigned to structure protection and were patrolling the areas threated by the fire, there simply were not enough assets available to offer heavy coverage of all the residential enclaves in the fire’s path.
On Friday, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners declared the county a disaster area, and Gov. Susana Martinez, who was on hand for the signing, pledged whatever resources local officials felt were necessary to fight the fire and overcome the losses caused by the blaze.
County Manager Tom Stewart said the declaration allows the county to move forward with a Fire Management Assistant Grant – FMAG – with FEMA, which Stewart said has already been approved.
The declaration further allows “the exercising of emergency powers and the expenditure of available resources,” as well as “requesting assistance and relief programs and funds available from the state of New Mexico.”
Starting Thursday, fire officials began holding public information hearings in San Patricio and Hondo to keep residents appraised of the fire’s progress.
Smoke from the Donaldson Fire drifted over nearby Ruidoso Downs and Ruidoso, Lincoln and Capitan, prompting health alerts for people with respiratory ailments.
In it’s Sunday morning update, the New Mexico Type II Interagency Incident Management Team declared burnout operations south of Alamo Canyon Road and on the west side of Pajarito Flats “successful,” and attributed the increase in burned acreage to the burnout operations.
“The east and southeast sides of the fire perimeter have cooled,” the update stated, “and are showing minimal fire activity. The Donaldson Fire is burning primarily on private property and also on Mescalero Apache Tribal lands, state Forestry, and Forest Service lands.”
By Sunday, nearly 600 firefighters were on the blaze, the result of a large increase when command of the fire was transferred from a Type III team to the Type II team, which brought additional resources into the fray.
A total of 13 crews were working the fire on Sunday, including 38 engines, 12 dozers and 11 water tenders. Five helicopters, two SEAT tankers and three air tankers were available Sunday.