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Wildfires prompt evacuations at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

June 15, 2011 |  6:12 pm


Wildfires burning for nearly two weeks in Arizona and New Mexico have threatened several historical  sites, the latest being Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, where a small wildfire caused officials to close the site and evacuate visitors this week.

The Loop fire burned 8,000 acres in the park but caused little structural damage, authorities said. Firefighters managed to protect the renowned Carlsbad Cavern, one of the world's deepest caves, and 200 tourists were evacuated. Officials expected to reopen the park Wednesday night.

Park spokeswoman Paula Bauer said firefighters concentrated their efforts on keeping fire and smoke out of the 1,500-foot-deep cavern and the park’s 100 other limestone caves, whose chambers are habitat for thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats.

The Loop fire, which was 60% contained, burned more than 30,000 acres and caused the evacuation of 300 residents of nearby Whites City, according to fire spokeswoman Jennifer Myslivy.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, a World Heritage Site, is one of thousands of archaeological sites to come under threat by wildfires in the region.

Recent fires swept through the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in western New Mexico, causing authorities to close the park. Flames burned over a few pueblo structures but there was surprisingly little damage, in part, authorities said, because some buildings were protected by fire-resistant material.

In southern Arizona, the Chiricahua National Monument is in the path of the 184,000-acre Horseshoe Two fire.

The two states are experiencing the most active wildfires in the country, with authorities battling eight major blazes, including the Wallow fire, which has burned 478,000 acres and is the largest in Arizona history.


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-- Ashlie Rodriguez

Photo: A wildfire burns near Carlsbad Caverns National Park on Monday. Credit: AP Photo/ Pecos Zone Type III Incident Management Team