Home Fire News Woman goes on fire setting spree, lighting 12 fires in New Mexico

Woman goes on fire setting spree, lighting 12 fires in New Mexico

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Elise Kaplan

Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

May 18—Fire crews from several different agencies jumped into action Wednesday morning after officials say a woman who appeared to be suffering from a mental illness lit 12 fires across 5 acres in the bosque south of the National Hispanic Cultural Center.

She was taken into custody near Second and Woodward SW.

An Albuquerque Police Department spokesman said the woman — who has not been publicly identified — has not been charged at this time and is going to undergo a mental health evaluation. He said she has a warrant out of Valencia County for starting fires, but it is non-extraditable.

The incident highlights the dangers the approximately 20-mile-long riparian forest faces due to extremely dry conditions.

But Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller stressed that they are not going to close the area to the public and it’s actually safer to have people around who can call in suspicious activity.

“That’s time and time again been proven much more effective than closing the bosque,” Keller said at a briefing at the scene. “Because it’s obviously very hard to actually maintain that perimeter. What we want is more people using it, coming down here and calling right away if they see anything.”

That’s exactly what happened Wednesday.

Albuquerque Fire Rescue Chief Gene Gallegos said a family walking in the area and a school resource officer made the call around 9:15 a.m. saying they saw “the individual starting the fire” and that “the person was going south and continue to light spot fires.”

APD’s helicopter unit also saw the woman setting fires and helped officers find her.

Gallegos said AFR and Bernalillo County Fire Department had 16 crews on scene and a crew from Oregon — on standby due to the current fire conditions — responded as well. He said there were a total of 70 personnel working in the bosque and the fires were under control by noon.

“We’re just mopping up the entire area so that we can prevent it from getting bigger and spreading anymore,” Gallegos said, adding that Bernalillo County’s Metro One air unit is dropping water on hot spots.

He said crews will also be on patrol through at least September.

Keller said AFR has two units helping fight the massive fires up north. But, he said, they did not send everything in terms of the wildland resources because they also wanted to be able to protect the bosque, open space and foothills area.

“I think it’s just a credit to planning and management, to leadership in our fire departments, to make sure that we can do anything we can up north, but also make sure we can protect the bosque,” Keller said. “And that’s exactly what we’ve done today.”

Carlos Hernandez, 70, was running on the bosque trails when he saw the fire and, along with another man, attempted to put it out.

He said he then saw police rush past him and take a woman into custody. Hernandez said it was sad to see the fire and he urged everyone to be alert and careful.

” New Mexico is beautiful but with all the fires and everything the bosque is one of the last strongholds we have close,” Hernandez said. “It’s a beautiful place, there’s a lot of wildlife out here. When I saw the fire I was thinking of all the porcupines, the animals…”

Journal staff photographer Adolphe Pierre-Louis contributed to this report.

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