Wildfire in New Mexico calls for US disaster declaration

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A wildfire near a small community in northeastern New Mexico in the Rocky Mountains is expected to continue to grow.

The governor of the US state of New Mexico has asked President Joe Biden to declare disaster as firefighters scrambled to prevent the largest blazing fire in the United States from destroying more homes in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

During a briefing about the fire that burned in the northeastern state on Tuesday, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a request for a presidential disaster statement to be sent to the White House in hopes of unlocking financial support for recovery efforts.

She said it was important that the statement be made up front rather than waiting for the fire to be out. “I’m not prepared to wait,” said Lujan Grisham, a first-term Democrat running for reelection.

“I’ve evacuated 6,000 people, I’ve got families that don’t know what the next day is like, I’ve got families trying to navigate their kids and healthcare, sorting out their livelihoods and they’re in every little community and it has to feel like they are on their own.”

New Mexico was on the bullseye for the country’s latest wave of hot, dry, and windy weather [Cedar Attanasio/AP]

She promised to help them, but residents of the small town of Las Vegas in northeastern New Mexico have already expressed concern over supermarket closures as some people chose to leave before the flames even though no evacuation had been ordered.

Those from villages in the mountains surrounding the community who had found shelter with relatives and at a Las Vegas shelter feared they would have to move if strong winds predicted flames to move closer to the city on Wednesday and this weekend.

A battery of fire trucks and their crews were busy protecting homes and other buildings on the outskirts of Las Vegas on Tuesday, while bulldozers cleared more fire lines on the outskirts. Air tanker and helicopter pilots took advantage of a break in the thick smoke and falling ash during the early hours to fight the flames from above with fire retardants and water droplets.

New Mexico was in bull’s eye for the country’s latest wave of hot, dry, and windy weather. Forecasters also issued warnings for parts of Arizona and Colorado, and authorities in Texas urged people to exercise caution after crews in that state had to respond to several new fires Monday.

Authorities in northeastern New Mexico said the flames were a few miles from Las Vegas, which serves as an economic center for most of northeastern New Mexico and the farming and ranching families that have lived in the rural region for generations. call home. It is home to United World College and New Mexico Highlands University.

The fire has charred 590 square kilometers (228 square miles) of mountainsides, towering ponderosa pines and meadows, destroyed about 170 homes in its path and forced the evacuation of the state’s psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas. Schools in the community have also canceled classes, at least through Wednesday.

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Nationally, the National Interagency Fire Center reported Tuesday that a dozen unattended major fires have burned about 1,000 square kilometers (400 square miles) in five states, including New Mexico. [Thomas Peipert/AP]

The governor said at the briefing that the number of houses destroyed is likely to be much higher, given the ground the fire has covered and the villages it passed through in the past week. Evaluations by the police continued.

Wildfires have become a year-round threat in the drought-stricken West, and they’re moving faster and burning hotter than ever due to climate change, scientists and fire experts say. Fire officials have also said many forested areas have become overgrown and unhealthy, and that the buildup of vegetation could exacerbate wildfire conditions.

California, for example, has experienced the eight largest wildfires in state history in the past five years, while a devastating Colorado fire swept through suburban neighborhoods last December. In the past decade, New Mexico has also seen its largest and most devastating fires.

Nationally, the National Interagency Fire Center reported Tuesday that a dozen unattended major fires have burned about 1,000 square kilometers (400 square miles) in five states, including New Mexico. Nearly 3,500 wildfire fighters and support personnel are deployed to fires across the country.



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