PECOS, N.M. (KRQE) - Investigators suspect trees falling on power lines are behind the two forest fires now raging in north-central New Mexico, and that is drawing the attention of utility regulators.
Both the Thompson Ridge Fire in the Jemez Mountains and the even bigger Tres Lagunas continue to grow.
Now a member of the state Public Regulation Commission wants to know why power lines have become a problem and how to fix it.
Lots of residents have raised concerns about just how close the power lines are running by trees in the Pecos wilderness.
"There are things we can do to prevent this from happening in the future," Public Regulation Commissioner Valerie Espinoza told KRQE News 13.
Fire crews believe a tree falling in the Tres Lagunas subdivision caused the blaze that started Thursday and was last reported at 8,600 acres. About 600 firefighters and support personnel are on the scene.
"It's disappointing," Espinoza continued. "It's devastating to see the amount of resource we have to spend on fighting the fire."
After a rallying cry from residents at public meetings Espinoza now says she'll have the PRC look into what can be done to give power lines more room in the Pecos.
"You can see where the trees are growing into the power lines," she said.
The power lines are within the legal rules giving 10 feet of clearance on each side. But Espinoza questions whether that is enough.
It may be a tough battle though.
A line belonging to the Mora-San Miguel Electric Co-op sparked the fire, and while the utility would like a wider easement, it's a hard sell with property owners.
"You're asking the owners of the property to sign off on additional land that they're going to give to the utility company," said Alex Romero, chief executive of the co-op. "You won't see anyone volunteering to give you more."
Another issue is getting more private land owners to do their own thinning.
"There's some seniors out there that don't have access to trimming around their homes or their cabins," Romero said.
While the solutions may not come easily, Espinoza said something needs to be done collaboratively.
"I think if we take action now we can prevent more fires, and rather than react we can be proactive in hopes that we can all work together including the residents," Espinoza said.
The PRC has a public meeting Wednesday where Espinoza plans to bring up what's next for the power-line issue.
About 140 residents are still evacuated as a result of the Tres Lagunas Fire, which is about 7 percent contained. State Route 63 remains closed with no estimate of when it will reopen allowing residents back in.
The Sandoval County sheriff's sergeant hit while investigating a weather related crash remains in critical condition.
John Smith with your forecast and Kim Vallez with your afternoon headlines.
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