Strong winds continue to fuel New Mexico wildfires

SANTA FE, NM — High winds in northern New Mexico on Sunday again posed a significant challenge for crews battling a large wildfire that grew significantly over the weekend.

The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire east of Santa Fe, which started as two fires before merging a week ago, had scorched nearly 104,000 acres, or more than 160 square miles, by Sunday against about 75,000 acres on Friday. It was 30% contained, firefighters said, with smoke from that blaze and another — the Cerro Pelado fire in Jemez Springs, about 40 miles west of Santa Fe — permeating much of the game. upstate.

More than 1,000 firefighters worked to contain the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire. The spread of the fire from Friday to Saturday exceeded forecasts, officials said in public briefings. Wind speeds exceeded 65 miles per hour at times, according to Mike Johnson, a fire information officer. On Sunday, wind gusts of up to 45 mph were expected and “extreme fire behavior” was possible over the next two days, according to InciWeb, a government website that tracks wildfires.

No deaths or injuries were reported as a result of the fire. State police reported the deaths of two people in April following another wildfire.

Carl Schwope, the commander of a team for the region that combines firefighting resources from federal, state, local and other agencies, said Saturday the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire “could easily double size” before being mastered.

“We are still in a very dangerous fire situation. It will continue,” he said, adding that the winds were not slackening. “There is nothing in time that seems to have to change. High wind events, north wind events, south wind events. It’s everywhere.

Mr. Schwope also urged residents to be on alert for further evacuation announcements, and on Sunday afternoon residents of two areas in Mora County were told to leave immediately. Mr Johnson said around 6,000 people from 32 communities near the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire, some in rural mountain areas, had already been ordered to leave.

Monica Aragon left her home in Ledoux, a small community northeast of Santa Fe, on April 22 and returned only once. She and her two children live with her parents in Chimayo, about 60 miles from her home.

On Friday, she said, she received a call from a volunteer firefighter describing the situation. He said he didn’t want her to panic, but that the fire had reached the road in front of his house. Firefighters were “getting it away from your house,” she recalled.

Due to the continuing danger, county officials were unable to provide a full account of the number of destroyed or damaged structures. But San Miguel County Executive Joy Ansley said before the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon fire spread Friday, it had destroyed 200 structures.

Roger Montoya, a New Mexico state representative whose district includes three counties currently affected by fires, spent time last week with a team delivering food and other supplies to residents who weren’t not gone yet. Some were without power, he said.

“There is a reluctance among individuals to leave their homes,” he said.

Samuel Coca, general manager of a bar at the Castañeda Hotel in Las Vegas, NM, said he had three vehicles full of personal effects in case he and his family needed to leave.

As the blaze intensified on Friday, alongside the number of people leaving their homes, his bar began offering free buffet dinners to firefighters and evacuees. Many people left the house with the clothes they were wearing and not much else, he added.

“The first dozen people I spoke to lost everything,” Mr. Coca said. “They lost their homes, their ranches, livestock. It was hard to spend the afternoon without crying.

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