Arson suspect may be connected to multiple Valencia Co. bosque fires

Crime

LOS LUNAS, N.M. (KRQE) – A Valencia County woman is facing an arson charge tied to a recent bosque fire near Los Lunas. Fire investigators believe the same woman may be responsible for as many as 20 fires in the area dating back to March 2020.

An arrest warrant filed by the New Mexico State Fire Marshal’s Office accuses 33-year-old Samantha Leyerly of setting a fire in the bosque on May 15, 2021. According to the investigation, Leyerly admitted to sparking the fire after a fight with her boyfriend.

Her arrest comes after crews have spent several weeks fighting multiple wildfires throughout Valencia County. Crews spent much of Saturday and Sunday battling a more than 300-acre fire near Belen called the Cemetery Fire.

“We’re really focusing on trying to limit the starts, so this arrest is a big deal,” said Captain Rob Barr of the Valencia County Fire’s wildland division. “If we stop one start, potentially we could stop a fire like this,” referring to the Cemetery Fire.

A type-two incident response team responded to the Cemetery Fire over the weekend. A helicopter helped fight the flames throughout Saturday and Sunday. The cause of the Cemetery Fire is still unknown and no suspects have been connected to the incident.

Meanwhile, New Mexico State fire investigators have connected the May 15 bosque fire near Los Lunas to Samantha Leyerly. According to court documents, Leyerly is homeless and lives in the bosque near Los Lunas. Investigators say during an interview, Leyerly admitted to setting her boyfriend’s campsite on fire, sparking the May 15 fire.

Based on witness interviews, investigators believe Leyerly is also connected to three other fires that burned on various dates in April and May. Investigators also believe Leyerly may be connected to as many as 14 other fires stretching back to March 2020. Leyerly was arrested Tuesday.

“It is a relief,” said Valencia County Assistant Fire Chief Jaime Gonzales Thursday, reacting to the news of Leyerly’s arrest. “We’re able to sleep a little bit better at night knowing that we’re making progress in stopping these fires.”

Valencia County firefighters still have intense concerns about the dry conditions. Firefighters say the cotton from cottonwood trees along the bosque continues to contribute to increased fire danger. “Any jurisdiction that needs help, there’s just not as many resources available due to fire activity picking up,” said Capt. Barr. “We really want to limit the amount of new fires we get.”

Leyerly was booked into the Valencia County Detention Center on Tuesday on a single count of arson. A judge opted to release her from jail to pre-trial services on Wednesday.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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