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Chairlift burned as Las Conchas fire rages

New Mexico's Las Conchas fire will likely blaze its way into the record books as the state's largest in history. One of the first structural casualties of the flames is Pajarito Mountain's Spruce Lift.

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Just four days after it began, the Las Conchas fire outside of Los Alamos, N.M., is poised to become the biggest fire in the history of the state.

The fire has already torched more than 93,000 acres, with fire crews reporting zero containment at a press conference on June 30, 2011. The state’s previous largest fire, the Dry Lakes fire, burned more than 94,000 acres in the Gila National Forest in 2003.

The fast moving fire resulted in the town of Los Alamos being evacuated on June 27, just one day after the fire began. The town has avoided damage so far, but the local Pajarito Mountain ski area and the nearby Santa Clara Pueblo have not.

Fire crews are being diverted to help stem the flames threatening the pueblo, where several structures have reportedly burned. And although ski area officials have not been able to tour the mountain, based on photos posted by fire crews of the area’s Spruce Lift laying on the ground, they are reporting damage on the slopes.

“There has been damage to lifts, all repairable in our estimate so far,” reads a post on the Pajarito Mountain Facebook page. “No major structures burned, even Aspen House at the top of the Triple chair is OK so far.”

Pajarito Mountain officials were contacted by SNEWS®, but had not replied by press time. At the June 30 press conference, Los Alamos Fire Chief Doug Tucker did say, “The ski hill is a challenging effort. It is going to be challenging for awhile.”

In nearby Santa Fe, local businesses are looking at a grim summer as tourists avoid the smoke-filled state. With the Pacheco Canyon fire in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains also threatening the Santa Fe Basin Ski Area, some are wondering if the situation can get much worse.

“It kind of seems like we keep getting kicked in the teeth,” Dan McCarthy, owner of Santa Fe Mountain Sports told SNEWS®. “From a bad snow year to a dry spring to fires threatening the two closest ski areas to us. But we have to focus on the good. The crews are busting their butts to save the lodge at Pajarito. Everything else can be repaired.”

McCarthy reported he had been told that crews at Santa Fe Ski Basin had set up all of their snowmaking equipment around the area lodge and base lifts and were “blowing snow” at them to keep them wet. The Pacheco Canyon fire is still as much as two miles from the ski area, but the area has been intermittently engulfed in heavy smoke.

“Genius!,” McCarthy said of the snowmaking effort. “We will get through this! A little rain wouldn’t hurt.”

Peter Kray