By Gabe Monte: Freedom New Mexico
A dangerous combination of dense grass, high winds and dry weather produced the massive grass fire Monday in Bailey County that burned an area bigger than Clovis, according to Muleshoe City Manager David Brunson.
And more grass fires in the West Texas and eastern New Mexico area are expected if dry conditions persist, according to fire officials.
The fast-moving fire, which started about 3 p.m. (CST) near Muleshoe burned approximately 20,000 acres of mostly rangeland and destroyed one barn before being extinguished around midnight, officials said.
Brunson said heavy springs rains made the rangeland grass thicker than normal, therefore, supplying plenty of fuel for fires.
Clovis Fire Chief Ray Westerman said similar conditions exist in Curry County. He said the county has been fortunate to avoid a major grass fire this winter.
Clovis has received 4.77 inches of precipitation since August, and nearly half of that was in September. The annual average from August through December is 7.94 inches.
“Anytime you’ve got grasslands on fire, that’s dry with high winds, it’s just very, very, difficult to try and get it extinguished,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you’re at.”
Portales Fire Chief John Bridges said he expects grass fires to appear regularly as long as the dry conditions persist.
“We’re going to have them, we just hope we don’t have them on windy days like that,” he said. “Because when they’re on windy days like that, it makes it really tough to fight those fires.”
Bailey County Sheriff Richard Wills said Monday’s fire is suspected to have originated near the Coyote Lake Feedyard southeast of Muleshoe and spread east to Texas 214 and northeast to U.S. 84.
Officials closed parts of those roads for about three hours Monday afternoon and evening because of smoke.
Bailey County residents south of Muleshoe were evacuated because of smoke, but allowed to return to their homes after the fire passed.
Wills said about eight homes were evacuated, though he did not know how many people left.
Bailey County Emergency Management Coordinator Terral King said 30 to 40 mph winds fed the fire as it made its way to U.S. 84 just east of Muleshoe.