ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Firefighters have been able to slow the growth of a massive wildfire burning in the mountains of northeastern New Mexico as they prepared Wednesday for another round of red-flag weather that has the potential to push the flames through more unburned territory.
Forecasters warned that hot, windy and dry conditions have prompted warnings for high fire danger from southern Nevada through parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado starting Thursday.
Most of the large fires so far this spring have been in Arizona and New Mexico, the largest of which has raced across more than 471 square miles of forest that many fire managers have described as “ripe and ready to burn” due to a megadrought that has spanned decades and warm and windy conditions brought on by climate change.
While the fire encompasses an area more than 1.5 times the size of New York City, fire managers said there are pockets of green within the perimeter that could still burn.
“We’re trying to go all the way around the edge of the fire and we want to keep the fire where it is right now,” Jayson Coil, an operations chief assigned to the blaze, said Wednesday of using bulldozers to cut wide lines that can block flames.
Fire managers also said not all areas have been burned severely, and crews have been able to protect many homes and structures by clearing out vegetation and using sprinklers and hose lays to knock down the flames as they approach populated areas.
Still, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said damage estimates for homes and structures could reach more than 1,000 by the time all the assessments are done.
She spoke with President Joe Biden on Tuesday and underscored the impacts of the fires on communities and the need for ongoing partnership with the federal government as the drought-stricken state recovers and rebuilds from some of the most devastating wildfires on record in New Mexico.
Biden reaffirmed the support of the federal government and said every effort will be made to provide immediate help to people in the impacted communities. He also expressed his gratitude to the first responders, firefighters and other personnel who are battling the blazes and have come to the aid of residents.
Evacuation orders remain in place for residents near a handful of large blazes in New Mexico, Colorado and Texas, where three large fires were reported Tuesday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Lujan Grisham has warned that many New Mexico residents, depending on where they live, should be ready for potential evacuations all summer given the likelihood for higher fire danger due to strong winds, warmer temperatures brought on by climate change and forecasts for little to no precipitation.
Another fire burning in the Gila National Forest in southern New Mexico had grown more than 57 square miles in one day, causing concern among state officials. Forest roads and trails in the area were closed, and crews were bracing for more wind.