Winds are fueling New Mexico wildfires, complicating containment efforts

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LAS VEGAS, NM – Strong winds continued into Sunday, helping to spread the second largest wildfire ever recorded in New Mexico to small farming communities in the state’s mountain valleys, where crews expect other days of harsh conditions.

The Calf Canyon fire continued to move south and east on Sunday and is expected to drive the trend overnight as winds remain strong all night. It also spread north, creating on the other side of the highway that the firefighters hoped to use as a containment line.

Although no deaths were reported, the fire destroyed at least 276 buildings and led to the evacuation Approximately 13,000 residences.

Here in a town of more than 13,000 people about 120 miles northeast of Albuquerque, residents huddle together in the face of uncertainty.

At a former middle school that now serves as a shelter, Jana Lopez brought out bowls of pasta, brisket, and pulled pork on Saturday evening.

Lopez, who was evacuated from her Las Vegas home about a week ago and is now staying with her cousin, has been coming to the shelter to serve the evacuees every day. It was the feeling of powerlessness that drove her to do something for the people whose lives were turned upside down by the fires.

“I was crying at home saying, ‘What do I do? ‘ And that’s when I evolved–we can cook,” Lopez said.

So she and her family prepared a whole new Mexican meal of pozole, enchiladas, and red chili to take to an evacuation shelter. She then joined the nonprofit World Central Kitchen’s efforts to provide food.

She still remembers the trees burning packing papers and taking pictures of her 8-year-old daughter from the walls in the two hours she had to collect her belongings.

“There is a lot of anxiety here – when can we go home, Could you Are we home?” Lopez said.

The winds were so strong that they swayed over the treetops and street signs, while shards of black and white ash flooded the city. The air was filled with the smell of burning wood, and the sky was covered with gray mist.

By nightfall, orange flames outlined the steep slopes, and pillars of light formed where trees were burned.

“High winds were the biggest factor against us,” Las Vegas City Council member Michael Montoya told The Washington Post on Saturday. “There is no end in sight.”

Todd Abell, the Southwest Incident Management Team’s chief of operations, said Sunday morning that aircrews are working to contain the fire. But the force of the winds halted several plans and aircraft, according to US Forest Service officials.

Winds of 30 to 40 mph, with gusts of up to 60 mph, were “unbelievable” and “prepared,” Abel said, adding that it was expected to last through Monday.

fire, Now over a monthit has already burned 176,273 acres and is 43 percent contained, said Mike D. Fries, information officer for the Southwest Coordination Center, An interagency group that organizes response to wildfires. In late April, it merged with the height of the Hermit Fire in the East, a described burn that the fire crew had lost control of amid strong winds. The cause of the Calf Canyon fire is under investigation.

Crew of 1,685 Personnel and a large fleet of aircraft – including four water scoops and 12 helicopters – are working hard to combat the intense fire, which has a circumference of nearly 300 miles.

“Right now, we’re in this multi-day wind event, and our resources have been deployed to tackle the fires in areas where it’s most severe in pushing an actual perimeter of fire or threatening communities,” de Fries told The Post on Sunday.

“The fire is definitely driving growth, and we’re just trying to protect communities and limit growth,” he added.

The winds pushed the fire toward rural communities north of Las Vegas, de Fries said, with more evacuation alerts issued there Sunday afternoon. Las Vegas, the most populous area in the vicinity of the fire, has seen some evacuation orders lifted as containment efforts have reduced threats to that city.

But as high winds cause erratic fires that are expected to last several days, many people who have been out of their homes for weeks may be asked to continue doing so for several days.

Strong winds combined with dry air, low humidity and above-average temperatures, resulting in what the National Weather Service described as “dangerous conditions” on Sunday. Authorities warned that fire conditions caused by the blaze could lead to a rapid spread of bushfires and a new outbreak of fire over the course of Sunday and the following days.

On Sunday, Dave Pallis, incident lead for the Southwest District Incident Management Team, described Sunday’s weather as “unheard of in this part of the world,” with good winds expected this week without a break.

“With winds in excess of 50 mph, these flames are moving fast,” Palese said Sunday night. “It’s coming and it’s coming quickly.”

Most evacuations and emergencies were coordinated from Las Vegas. Up to 3,000 additional homes in The Las Vegas area can be told to evacuate. Administrators have already been emptied A psychiatric hospital, prison and boarding school United World College in the city.

Evacuation warnings began Sunday in a third county, Taos, on the northwestern edge of the fire. Fire officials stress that for people who remain in evacuation areas, it is time to leave before smoke or fire makes that impossible.

On Saturday evening, San Miguel County Sheriff Chris Lopez warned residents to evacuate “before it’s too late” and urged people to prepare for the worst given the anticipated dangerous conditions.

“It’s hard to guess exactly what’s going to happen, but it’s not very good,” Lopez said.

Calf Canyon Fire is located in the highlands east of Santa Fe in Mora and San Miguel counties, in northern New Mexico, and is among the Six big fires burning in New Mexico.

The fires burned more than 270,000 acres so far this yearAnd fire season is just entering its peak period. Sunday also saw Los Alamos residents alerted about potential evacuations early this week, as the Cerro Pelado fire broke out west of Santa in the midst of high winds.

“We can’t say much more clearly than this – if you’re in a mandatory evacuation zone, you need to go now,” Governor Michelle Logan Grisham (Democrat) tweeted Saturday night. “Tonight we will enter a very dangerous period of intense fire weather. With high winds approaching, conditions may worsen and air support may be limited.”

Sunday night, I tweeted Many communities in Mora County were subject to an emergency evacuation order.

Villegas reported from Washington.