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Teens Charged With Setting N.M. Wildfire

June 27, 2003

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) _ Three teenagers were booked on arson charges Friday for allegedly setting at least one of two wildfires that forced people to evacuate homes along the Rio Grande just north of downtown. Officials in Arizona said a wildfire there was also likely caused by humans.

Investigators have not linked the two Albuquerque fires, which started about a mile apart Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and they did not immediately say which fire the boys are charged with starting.

Ricky Navarette, 16; Fernando Anaya, 13; and Steven Sedillo, 13, were booked into juvenile detention early Friday on charges of arson, arson conspiracy, criminal property damage and evidence tampering, police Sgt. Beth Paiz said. They are not expected to go before a judge before next week.

Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez said investigators felt confident that with the arrests they had ``at least one of the fires resolved.″

Residents returned to their homes along the Rio Grande on Thursday as firefighters tried to stamp out the remnants of a smoldering blaze that transformed a drought-parched riverside forest into a patchwork of black and gray.

The fire scorched about 165 acres and forced about 200 people to leave their homes. The earlier fire, started Tuesday, burned 350 acres and was 75 percent contained Thursday, fire officials said.

In Arizona, officials investigating a wildfire that destroyed about 345 buildings in a vacation hamlet near Tucson last week said Thursday that the blaze was caused by humans. They do not yet know whether it was accidental or deliberate, but have ruled out lightning and other natural factors.

``We have people we’re interested in talking to,″ said David Conto, a sheriff’s fire investigator. ``I wouldn’t classify them as suspects yet.″

The blaze devastated Summerhaven and has charred 32,700 acres since June 17. It was 50 percent contained Friday morning. Light winds and dry lightning were forecast in the area for Friday.

In California, three wildfires were burning. The worst of three destroyed two homes Thursday near Lake Isabella, about 150 miles north of Los Angeles. Near Palm Springs, a fire burned about 350 acres in a desert Indian reservation. About 400 residents fled but were allowed to return by early evening, as the fire was nearly contained.


On the Net:

National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.gov/

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