May 27, 2023

New Mexico wildfire, at over 300,000 acres is the largest fire in the U.S.

Smoke from 283 looking towards Mineral Hills on the evening of May 8 during the Calf Canyon /Hermits Peak Fire. Photo by Santa Fe National Forest
Credit – National Interagency Fire Center, Public Domain

The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire in New Mexico has burned close to 301,971 acres, making it the largest fire in the state’s history, say fire officials.

The fire has charred more than 468 square miles (1212 square kilometers) over the last 42 days to earn the distinction of being the largest fire in the arid state’s recorded history. It’s also the largest fire currently burning in the U.S.

On Tuesday afternoon, New Mexico’s Governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham said that with the ferocity and speed of its spread, the damage would be significant with estimates of burned homes and other structures likely to range between 1,000 and 1,500.

Speaking of the many families who have lost their homes, as well as businesses, the governor said that while the numbers are only an estimate, they are likely not an exaggeration.

“And their families are suffering,” the governor said during a news conference with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell and top state officials. “And that’s my takeaway, the number of families we have to help.”

On Tuesday evening, the White House said that President Joe Biden and Grisham spoke about the devastation.

“Every effort will be made to provide immediate help to people in the impacted communities and support the state throughout its recovery,” the White House said in a summary.

Evacuation orders are still up for many residents, depending on where they live. The governor stresses that residents should be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice all summer – given the likelihood of higher fire danger due to strong winds, warmer temperatures brought on by climate change and forecasts for little to no precipitation.

Map showing the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon fire spread as of May 18, 2022.
Source – InciWeb

Nation parkland closures due to wildfires

Early-season wildfires burning in New Mexico and Colorado have forced federal officials to say on Tuesday that the Santa Fe and Carson national forests would close effective Thursday.

The New Mexico parkland would be off-limits as a precaution as the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire burns along the southern end of the Rocky Mountains, known in the state as the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, federal fire incident spokesperson Renette Saba said.

The weather is not helping the over 2,000 firefighters in New Mexico and Colorado in containing the fires. With the instability present across northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, pyrocumulonimbus are possible with any active fires.

In Colorado, firefighters were grappling with the High Park Fire, about 45 miles west of Colorado Springs. Officials in Teller County said in a statement that the blaze has forced the evacuation of about 560 homes.

As of Wednesday, the High Park Fire is 1,572 acres in size and is 69 percent contained.