After days of relative calm that allowed some people fleeing wildfires in northeastern New Mexico to return home, severe winds returned on Sunday, threatening to suffocate the fires and complicate firefighters’ efforts.
The largest flames east and northeast of Santa Fe, which swelled an extra 8 square miles overnight to more than twice the size of Philadelphia, had more than 1,500 firefighters on the fire lines.
The fire’s radius stretched from Las Vegas, New Mexico, to Holbrook, roughly 50 miles (80 kilometres) south of the Colorado Line on its southeastern side. The National Interagency Fire Center reported early Sunday that the fire, which has destroyed almost 300 homes in the last two weeks, was threatening more than 20,000 properties. Full control was not expected until the end of July, according to the fire centre.
These winds not only feed and spread the flames but also keep air tankers and light aircraft grounded. This allowed them to avoid pouring water directly on the fire or laying fire retardant ahead of their path, allowing bulldozers and ground crews to establish firebreaks in areas where there were no highways or roads to slow them down.
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Even helicopters that can normally get up in the air — at least until the afternoon winds pick up — are stranded in extreme conditions, such as those in New Mexico. This prohibits them from acquiring information about the night’s occurrences. The planes were allowed to take off in the early hours of Sunday, but they were forced to return to the ground by noon.
The greatest tremor in Santa Fe’s northeast affected an area more than twice the size of Philadelphia early Sunday. For the time being, Berlin believes Las Vegas is safe. On Saturday, some homeowners were able to return to their houses, and some stores and restaurants reopened.
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, about 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometres) have burned across the country so far this year; the last time these many fires were documented at this point was in 2018. And the remainder of the spring forecast isn’t looking good for the West, where protracted droughts and rising temperatures caused by climate change have exacerbated wildfire dangers.