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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The wildfire in New Mexico is being fueled by strong winds

High winds in northern New Mexico on Sunday presented a big challenge to personnel fighting a huge wildfire that had grown dramatically during the previous weekend, according to fire officials.

Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire, located east of Santa Fe and initially consisting of two separate fires until combining one week ago, has scorched almost 104,000 acres, or more than 160 square miles, as of Sunday, an increase from the approximately 75,000 acres it had burned on Friday. Fire authorities reported that it was 30 percent controlled, with smoke from that fire and another — the Cerro Pelado fire near Jemez Springs, some 40 miles west of Santa Fe — penetrating most of the state’s northern region.

According to authorities who spoke at a briefing on Sunday, the air quality in Las Vegas, New Mexico, was projected to be bad and perhaps dangerous on Monday.

More than 1,100 firefighters have been sent to the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon conflagration to help bring it under control. During public briefings, authorities said that the fire’s progress from Friday into Saturday surpassed their expectations by a wide margin. According to Mike Johnson, a fire information officer, wind gusts reached rates of more than 65 miles per hour at times. Wind gusts hit 48 miles per hour on Sunday, and “severe fire behaviour” was predicted for the first few days of this week, according to InciWeb, a federal website that analyses wildfires in the United States.

On Sunday, the winds, which were constantly changing direction, forced fire authorities to resort to ground air support operations by mid-day. In addition, numerous national monuments and woods in the vicinity were closed by fire authorities.

“The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire could easily double in size,” according to Carl Schwope, a commander of a regional firefighting team that brings together resources from federal, state, local, and other agencies, who said on Saturday that the fire “could easily double in size” before being contained.

Mr. Schwope also encouraged locals to be on the lookout for more evacuation orders, and on Sunday afternoon, residents in two regions of Mora County were forced to evacuate their homes without further notice. According to Mr. Johnson, around 6,000 individuals from 32 towns in the region of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire, some of which were located in remote mountain areas, had already been ordered to evacuate due to the fire.

Monica Aragon moved away from her home in Ledoux, a tiny village northeast of Santa Fe, on April 22 and has only returned once since then. Currently, she and her two children are residing with her parents in Chimayo, which is around 60 miles away from her house.

She claims she got a phone call from a volunteer fireman on Friday, informing her of the emergency situation. His intention was not to cause her distress, but he informed her that the fire had spread to a nearby highway and was in front of her home. Her husband told her that firefighters were “keeping it away from your house.”

Counties have been unable to offer a complete accounting of the number of structures that have been destroyed or damaged as a result of the continuing threat of flooding. The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire, according to Joy Ansley, county manager for San Miguel County, had burned 200 houses prior to its expansion on Friday, when it was first reported.

Roger Montoya, a state representative from New Mexico whose district includes three counties that are now devastated by flames, spent time with a team last week distributing food and other supplies to individuals who had not yet evacuated their homes. He said that several people were without power.

Samuel Coca, the general manager of a bar at the Castaeda Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico, said he and his family had three cars packed with possessions in case they had to evacuate.

In response to the growing size of the blaze on Friday, as well as the increasing number of people fleeing their houses, his pub started offering free buffet meals to firefighters and evacuated residents. He went on to say that many folks fled home with just the clothing they were wearing and nothing else.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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