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Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 07/05/2011

Wildfires consume 21,000 acres on Sam Donaldson ’s New Mexico ranch


Firefighters battling the “Donaldson Fire” on June 30. (Mark Wilson/AP)

The wildfires out West have struck close to Washington: Sam Donaldson’s ranch is ablaze.

The veteran newsman, who retired from ABC in 2009, and his wife Jan Smith own a cattle and sheep ranch in southern New Mexico as well as their longtime home in McLean. A lightening strike hit their drought-stricken land a week ago, sparking what is now called the “Donaldson Fire.” The flames merged with another fire from a nearby ranch and began a march north, consuming 100,000 acres — including 21,000 on Donaldson’s land.

It’s the latest blow for the New Mexico native, who’s been criticized for using the feds to combat predators on his ranch and receiving mohair subsidies. In 2004, there was a sensational multiple murder on the property involving one of his ranchhands. The wildfires, which consumed grass and brush, will probably prove to be a temporary concern: None of ranch’s buildings or animals were harmed, just their grazing land.


Sam Donaldson in Washington, D.C. last month. (Leigh Vogel/ Wire Image)

“It’s a hardship until the rains come,” said Eddie Tudor of New Mexico State Forestry. “The hard part for the rancher is waiting for the grass to grow back.”

Donaldson, who’s overseas on vacation and missed the fires, couldn’t be reached for comment. But he’s devoted to the ranch and the farm life of his childhood. “When I was young, I couldn’t wait to leave the farm,” he said in a 2009 interview. “Now that I’m older, I can’t wait to get back.” It’s a working business; Donaldson is hands-on with the books, the bills, the herds. “That’s what I do for pleasure.”

The wildfires are 75 percent contained, fire information officer Jennifer Myslivy told us Tuesday. Donaldson’s ranch was out of danger after fire’s second day; his land should be back to normal by next year: “The grass will grow back, and it will be lush, green grass.”

By  |  10:00 PM ET, 07/05/2011

 
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