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Flaming scraps believed to have caused small blazes

CLOVIS — Two pieces of flaming airborne scrap wood are believed to be the cause of a crop of five small blazes that occupied firefighters south of town on Monday afternoon.

Clovis Fire Chief Mike Nolen said witnesses reported seeing some pieces of burning two-by-fours fall from the back of a vehicle driving southbound on U.S. 70 around 11 a.m., starting almost half a dozen fires confined to the fields between county roads 6 and 7 near the highway.

Nobody was injured, he said, and other damages were "very minimal." The first fire appeared to emerge from the location of one of the recovered planks, but spread slowly since the grassland there had been recently shredded. Another was extinguished by a resident with a garden hose.

The location that kept responders busiest was a salvage yard acting as a "storage area for implements and equipment," its fire hazard enhanced by the debris and weeds piled up there, Nolen said. Even then no occupied areas or structures were affected, only scrap.

Five trucks and a few support staff from Clovis responded to the fires, as well as units from Portales Fire Department, Curry County Sheriff Office and the state fire marshal. All told, "everything was pretty much under control by 2 (p.m.), for certain," said the chief.

Officials' attempts to locate the flame-throwing vehicle were unsuccessful as of Monday evening, Nolen said, but they are still interested in speaking to the driver. He said witness reports were unclear on the type of vehicle, but it was most likely a trailer pulled by a pickup truck.

"We're not even sure if the individuals pulling this trailer were ever aware of this," he said.

As to what set the scrap wood ablaze, Nolen speculated maybe an errant lit cigarette mingling with scrap lumber in the back of a truck.

It's fire season, and it doesn't take much, "with the warm weather and high winds and what not, and the extreme fire danger that's been going on," said CFD Lt. Justin Hines.

It's not the strangest source of a fire Nolen has seen over the years, either: that would be with the piles of manure about four years ago near Cannon Air Force Base that spontaneously combusted after heat exposure, he said.

CFD also made short work of a fire around 4 p.m. near State Road 209 at Ned Houk Park, said Hines.

The cause of that was still under investigation, he said, and Nolen added there were no injuries and that the fire burned only half an acre.

The weekend in Clovis was free of any significant fires, Nolen said, but the events Monday illustrate how randomly and easily one or more can be set off. He noted a recommendation from the city's emergency management department of a "severe fire danger day" on Thursday, and encouraged residents to keep their grass cut and weeds knocked down.