Portales seeks outside investigators’ help on local fires

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

PORTALES — The State Fire Marshal’s Division is investigating three commercial fires in Portales that occurred over a 10-day period at the request of local authorities.

The latest was Sunday afternoon at Portales Valley Mills.

Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry said Sunday’s fire appeared to have started on the second floor of the building, which was used for storage of records and unoccupied at the time of the fire.

The fire caused minimal damage. A firefighter injured battling the blaze was treated at a local hospital and released, officials said.

The State Fire Marshal’s Division, which falls under the PRC, only assists in investigations at the request of local authorities, according to Paul Carbajal, spokesman for the Public Regulations Commission, on behalf of fire investigators.

Evidence from the three fires has been sent to a crime lab in Albuquerque where it will be analyzed, Carbajal said.

“The investigation is still pending,” he said. “As far as the detailed information of this investigation, we can’t make any comment because the investigation is still ongoing.

“Everything’s on the table, and it’s a process of elimination at this point. To protect the integrity of the investigation and to protect the evidence that’s being collected, we don’t want to give out premature information and then we have to backtrack (as the investigations develop).”

The roof of Big Valley Ford’s repair shop in Portales burned Friday, and on March 27 a fire destroyed Dollar General and a Trader Horn’s True Value Hardware warehouse.

Local fire officials don’t believe there is a connection between the three blazes.

“None of them are looking like they are connected,” Portales Battalion Chief Lance Hill said Monday. “It’s really hard to say yes or no, one way or the other. Right now, there’s nothing that we have seen to actually connect it.”

The state division’s five fire investigators investigate an average of 300 fires a year around the state.

Carbajal said investigators have noticed an increasing trend of suspicious fires in rural communities this year, something which typically is uncommon outside larger, more urban areas.

“We’re noting a trend and it could be economically related, we don’t know,” he said. “But our state is not unique (regarding these types of fires).”