BELEN, N.M. (KRQE) –  The Big Hole Fire is still causing major devastation since igniting April 11. So far, 904 acres have burned and the fire is 40% contained. Now, fire crews are running into a new issue of public safety.

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“Firefighters are reporting running into the public along the ditch banks along the east and west banks of the fire zone, this becomes a hazard to the public as the vegetation and the trees have burnt,” said Lt. Joseph Rowland with the Valencia County Sheriff’s office.

Rowland says these run-ins with the public have been preventing firefighters from doing their jobs as they work to escort people away from the fire and back towards safety. Out of concern for residents, officials have now restricted public access to river access points from Los Lunas to Belen and say signage warning them to stay out of the area will be implemented. 

With 40% of the fire contained, evacuation orders are no longer in place. Officials say the number of structures affected still remains the same with 19 structures damaged or destroyed by the fire including a home. The cause of the fire is still unclear and under investigation. Fire crews from Arizona who traveled to the state to help with containment are now heading to Ruidoso to help with the McBride Fire.