Crews reduce New Mexico fires, prepare for dangerous conditions

ALBUQUERQUE – More than 2,000 firefighters battling the largest wildfire in the US dug out emergency lines and rearranged fire trucks around homes in northeastern New Mexico on Wednesday (May 18) in anticipation of a return to windy and dangerous conditions in the coming days.

After a break in the weather allowed significant progress on the ground and from the air in recent days, forecasters issued high fire danger warnings from southern Nevada through parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado beginning from Thursday.

“The next three days are going to be dizzying,” fire behavior analyst Dennis Burns said Wednesday.

“Crews are working as hard as they can to get in line as quickly as possible,” he said during an afternoon briefing on the fire east of Santa Fe spreading northeast toward Taos.

Most of the big fires so far this spring have been in Arizona and New Mexico. The largest has swept through more than 400 square miles of forest that many fire managers have described as “ripe and ready to burn” due to a decades-long mega-drought and hot, windy conditions brought on by climate change.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said damage estimates for homes and structures could reach more than 1,000 by the time all assessments are done.

No new evacuations were ordered on Wednesday and some were relaxed. Burns said the biggest new concern was that thunderstorms with lightning and strong downdraft winds would fuel the fire again on Thursday.

Bulldozers and hand crews were building contingency lines near the town of Angel Fire east of Taos to make sure the flames didn’t reach US Highway 64 within about 25 miles of the Colorado line.

“If we’re lucky enough to dodge that bullet, the cloud cover will actually shade the fuels and moderate the fire behavior a little bit, which is a good thing,” Burns said Wednesday. “But tomorrow will be the day to tell.”

Although the fire covers an area more than 1.5 times the size of New York City, fire managers said there are pockets of green within the perimeter that could still burn.

“We’re trying to completely get around the edge of the fire and we want to keep the fire where it is right now,” Jayson Coil, an operations chief assigned to the fire, said Wednesday of using bulldozers to open fires. lines that can block flames.

Fire managers also said not all areas have burned severely, and crews have been able to protect many homes and structures by clearing vegetation and using sprinklers and hoses to smother flames as they approach populated areas.

Lujan Grisham spoke with President Joe Biden on Tuesday and underscored the impacts of the fires on communities and the need for continued partnership with the federal government as the drought-stricken state recovers and rebuilds from some of the wildfires. most devastating on record in New Mexico.

Biden reaffirmed the support of the federal government and said that everything possible will be done to provide immediate help to people in the affected communities. She also expressed her thanks to first responders, firefighters and other personnel who are battling the flames and have come to the aid of residents.

Evacuation orders remain in effect for residents near a handful of large fires in New Mexico, Colorado and Texas, where three major fires were reported Tuesday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Lujan Grisham cautioned that many New Mexicans, depending on where they live, should be prepared for possible evacuations throughout the summer given the likelihood of increased fire danger from high winds, warmer temperatures brought on by climate change and forecasts. little or no precipitation. .

Another fire in the Gila National Forest in southern New Mexico had grown to more than 148 square kilometers overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday, raising concern among state officials. Logging roads and trails in the area were closed, but officials said late Wednesday that crews made good progress during the day that kept the perimeter from growing.

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