Santa Fe, New Mexico (AP) — Thousands of firefighters battled destructive wildfires in the Southwest, as more residents prepared to evacuate in northern New Mexico on Friday and Saturday due to strong winds and dangerously dry weather.
During the afternoon, the biggest fire in the United States had grown to more than 117 square miles (303 square kilometres). Gusty winds stopped any air attacks by mid-morning, and the crews lost some of the containment they had set up in the past few days.
In some regions, incident commander Carl Schwope warned Friday night, that the fire’s rapid spread was exceeding grave predictions. There is a lot of danger. The statuses of people who have to leave their homes are changing right now, he said at a meeting in Las Vegas, New Mexico, which is about 50 miles (80 kilometres) east of Santa Fe.
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Air and ground forces were coming, he said, to help the nearly 1,000 firefighters who were on the fire lines there. Winds that had been up to 65 mph were starting to break down as night fell.
Since the county sheriff reported Thursday night that at least 166 residences in northeast New Mexico’s rural San Miguel County had been destroyed, there were no immediate reports of any new properties being lost. They also said that erratic wind shifts were going to happen in the driest conditions the region has seen in a long time, and authorities were making plans to evacuate some people as far north as Taos.
It was Sheriff Chris Lopez’s goal today to get people out of the way. Some of the most active fire was moving toward that town, but he said that the town itself was not in danger right now. Fire lines were bolstered outside the rural New Mexico town of Ledoux in an attempt to save buildings. They looked like they were holding.
More than 2,000 firefighters were working to put out fires in Arizona and New Mexico on Friday. About half of them were in northeast New Mexico, where more than 187 square miles (484 square kilometres) of mostly wood and brush have been burned down.
Some parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas were under a red-flag warning on Friday because there was a very high risk of fire. The fires are burning unusually hot and quickly for this time of year, particularly in the Southwest, where some timber is drier than kiln-dried wood, according to experts.
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Tonight, tomorrow, and several days after that, there will still be some fine weather for us to deal with, a fire behaviour specialist said at a briefing in Las Vegas on Friday night.
“It’s essential that everyone follows the evacuation orders because this is a very serious fire with extremely dangerous fire behaviour.”
People who live in poor areas have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, says Matthew Probst, the medical director of the health clinic network El Centro Family Health in Las Vegas. The fire has spread through those areas.
“Here, you’re losing small homes, but it’s all you have.” “It’s the only thing they had,” said Probst, a coordinator of county health services for people who had to leave their homes because of the fires. Last week, a fast-moving fire caught rural families off guard when they came home from an early evacuation only to be met by the fire.
A 79-year-old widow from the small town of Sapello left her house and a blue heeler cattle dog for a doctor’s appointment, with boxes of jewellery and her wedding photos in them in case she had to leave her home. The weather got bad, and police said it was too late to do anything.
During a phone interview Friday, Sonya Berg said, “They said, ‘No, ma’am, it’s far too dangerous.'” Berg refuses to believe a close friend’s claim that the house burned down. The dog was saved by a neighbour. “I’m not going to believe it until I see it,” said Berg, whose husband died in 2019 and was buried outside the house. “He’s up there, and he’s been through everything.” Hope the gravestone we put up still stands.
In the Jemez Mountains east of Los Alamos, another wildfire spread across 12 square miles (30 square kilometres) and was moving toward Bandelier National Monument, which closed its backcountry hiking trails as a precaution while the main parts of the park were still open.
Hundreds of people have been evacuated from their homes in northern Arizona because of a fire that spread to 30 square miles (77 square kilometres) and destroyed at least 30 homes near Flagstaff and forced hundreds to leave their homes. On Friday, it was returned to the local forest by a top-level national management team.
“For the most part, it’s pretty stable,” said Coconino National Forest spokesman Randi Shaffer. It doesn’t look like we’re going to get any crazy weather. All of our efforts to put out the fires have worked. Some people who live near a fire 10 miles (16 kilometres) south of Prescott haven’t been able to return home. There is about one-third of the 14 square-mile (37 square-kilometre) fire’s perimeter has been put out by the firefighters.
Firefighters say that low humidity will be a big problem this weekend, but the wind will be less strong. This report was written by Scott Sonner, an Associated Press reporter who was in Reno, Nevada. Attanasio said he was in Santa Fe.
The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative has hired Attanasio as a corps member. Report for America is a non-profit national service initiative that sends journalists to local newsrooms to cover stories that aren’t getting enough attention.
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