Cajete Fire Day 3: Illegal drone, cause revealed and residents soon to go home

JEMEZ, N.M. (KRQE) – The Cajete Fire grew from 700 to 1,315 acres Friday night, but good news came with it – containment went up, too. It’s now 55 percent contained. This despite a drone illegally flying over the fire Saturday and temporarily halting aerial firefighting in the afternoon.

For the last three days, the fire has threatened many homes and properties.

“There were people going door to door warning their neighbors to get them out,” said Jesse Ross who evacuated her home with her family.

Officials confirmed in a press conference Saturday the fire was started by a campfire not properly put out.

“We were on scene within 15 minutes of discovery, and unfortunately it had hit about an acre, almost an acre when we got there,” said Brian Riley, the district ranger.

Crews worked tirelessly to contain the fire, but trouble came in the form of a drone flying over the scorched forest. The drone grounded all firefighting aircraft for an hour.

“People don’t realize that something that small can cause a serious if not fatal accident for larger aircraft,” said Julie Anne Overton, the spokesperson for the Santa Fe National Forest Service.

An investigation has been started into who flew the drone over the fire.

Rangers said in the press conference, they’ve had issues for weeks with loose campfires, like the one they said caused the Cajete Fire.

“We’ve had multiple weekends with lots of abandoned fires, lots of abandoned campfires, particularly in areas of dispersed camping,” said Riley.

But now, people who were evacuated are finally hearing they can soon go home.

“We were relieved to hear of the progress that has taken place,” said Robert Lazar.

But they’re also frustrated with how the fire started.

“People just don’t seem to understand that what they do matters,” said Lazar.

Crews said they hope evacuated residents will be back into their homes by Sunday or Monday, and the majority of power in those neighborhoods has been restored.

They expect Highway 4 to re-open late Sunday evening.