Cooks Peak Fire seen from NM HWY 442.
Source – National Interagency Fire Center, Public Domain
The biggest wildfire burning in the country is about to enter weather conditions that could propel it to greater destruction.
Many families already have been left homeless and thousands of residents have evacuated due to flames that have charred large swaths of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northeastern New Mexico.
Fire and weather officials this week have expressed their concern over the effect high winds, hot temperatures, and dry conditions could have on fires in New Mexico. Some have used the term “potentially historic fire weather” to describe the next few days, reports The Santa Fe New Mexican.
And one thing is for sure – Fire officials don’t want anyone to underestimate the threat to their lives. The severe weather conditions are expected to hit northern New Mexico today and could last up to four or five days.
Incident Commander Dave Bales said wind gusts topping 50 to 60 mph (80 to 96 kph) can be expected and also warned that flames could be carried up to a mile away. “This is an extreme wind event that is unprecedented,” Bales said.
Residents along the shifting firefront are holding out hope that all the work done over the past few days, with bulldozers scrapping fire lines, sprinklers being added and brush being cleared will keep the fire from reaching the small city of Las Vegas and other villages to the north and south, reports ABC News.
“There’s uncertainty and there’s fear about how the winds are going to affect the fire from day to day,” said Elmo Baca, chairman of the Las Vegas Community Foundation. “Once the people are evacuated out of an area, they can’t go back, so they’re just stuck worrying.”
The huge Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire has blackened more than 262 square miles (678 square kilometers) over the last few weeks. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said 16,000 homes have been evacuated, moves that have affected between 30,000 and 40,000 people, largely in San Miguel and Mora counties.
Updates Friday show the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire at 168,009 acres with 20 percent containment and the Cerro Pelado Fire at 32,121 acres with 13 percent containment.
Eleven wildfires are currently burning in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Colorado, and Florida, the National Interagency Fire Center said. The Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire was by far the largest, followed by Cooks Peak and Cerro Pelado, all in Northern New Mexico.
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