- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2016

ESTANCIA, N.M. (AP) - A wildfire that destroyed two dozen homes as it raced across 28 square miles of tinder-dry forest in central New Mexico showed signs of slowing down thanks to more favorable weather Monday and some evacuees will be allowed to go back home Tuesday.

But a new blaze threatened a popular recreation area in the Jemez Mountains.

Hundreds of firefighters took advantage of double-digit humidity levels, relatively cooler temperatures and cloud cover to build on progress made over the weekend on the blaze burning in the Manzano Mountains south of Albuquerque. Crews have established some kind of line all the way around the fire.

The Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department announced Monday evening at a community meeting in Moriarty that evacuees living in Torrance County south of La Para also will be able to return home starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

County sheriff’s deputies, National Guard and state police officers will be stationed along main roads to check people’s identification as they return home.

Gov. Susana Martinez directed the New Mexico National Guard over the weekend to take extra measures to secure the communities against any threats of looting and to prepare for post-fire flooding once summer rains develop.

Officials don’t expect the flames to start racing again, spurring a sigh of relief among dozens of residents forced to evacuate a string of small communities bordering the Cibola National Forest, including Chilili.

State police and other law enforcement officers also are manning roadblocks to keep people out of the area while crews fight the blaze, whose cause is under investigation.

Martinez asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to conduct damage assessments.

“It’s important for us to begin preparing for the aftermath as well, and this request is part of that process,” she said. “We will continue to look for all available resources at our disposal to assist the communities affected by the Dog Head Fire.”

Fire officials warned Monday that despite a little help from Mother Nature, the brush that has been feeding the flames is extremely dry.

Those dry conditions combined with windy, hot weather last week to help the fire grow from just several acres when it was first reported June 14 to more than 19 square miles in two days.

Shelters have been set up for residents who were forced to leave their homes, and the American Red Cross has helped to coordinate donations and volunteers.

In northern New Mexico, firefighters were battling a blaze in the Santa Fe National Forest. The fire had charred just a few acres, but officials considered as threatened the Battleship Rock area, the Jemez Falls campground, Hummingbird Music Camp and YMCA Camp Shaver.

Both camps posted updates on social media saying there was no immediate threat, but authorities warned that the potential for the flames to spread was high given the heavy fuels in the area.

The fire, believed to be human-caused, was first spotted Sunday and had no containment.

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