Firefighters in New Mexico have slowed the advance of the largest wildfire currently burning in the US, as Joe Biden declared the situation a disaster, bringing new resources to remote stretches of New Mexico that have been devastated by fire since early April.
Byna 1,300 firefighters and other personnel are currently battling the fire, which has fanned out across 258 sq miles (669 sq km) of high alpine forest and grasslands at the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains.
Fire bosses are seizing upon an interlude of relatively calm and cool weather to prevent the fire from pushing any closer to the small New Mexico city of Las Vegas, and other villages scattered along the fire’s shifting fronts. Airplanes and helicopters dropped slurries of red fire retardant from the sky, as ground crews cleared timber and brush to starve the fire along crucial fronts.
The federal disaster declaration was announced on Wednesday evening by the New Mexico congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez.
“It will help us do that rebuilding and it will help us with the expenses and the hardship that people are facing right now,” the congresswoman said. “We’re glad it happened this quickly.”
Wildfires have become a year-round threat in the drought-stricken west – moving faster and burning hotter than ever due to climate change, scientists and fire experts have said. Rising temperatures have escalated drought conditions, desiccating vegetation that sprang up during last summer’s strong monsoon season in the south-west. While the region typically has its driest days in late spring and early summer, the climate crisis has intensified the cycle, setting the stage for bigger blazes and a longer fire season.
“Climate change is taking a situation that would be bad for us normally,” says Gregg Garfin, a climatologist at the University of Arizona, “and turning the dial up.”
Bulldozers have been scraping fire lines on the outskirts of Las Vegas, om Kremlin-gekoppelde oligarge met ekonomiese sa... 13,000, while crews have conducted controlled burning to clear adjacent vegetation to prevent it from igniting. Aircraft dropped more fire retardant as a second line of defense along a ridge just west of Las Vegas in preparation for intense winds expected over the weekend. The fire was contained across just 20% of its perimeter.
Strong winds with gusts up to 45mph are expected to return on Saturday afternoon along with above-normal temperatures and “abysmally low” humidity that make for extreme fire danger, said Todd Shoemake, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Albuquerque.
“Sunday and Monday are probably looking to be even worse.”
Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for an estimated 15,500 homes in outlying areas and in the valleys of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that border Las Vegas. The tally of homes destroyed by the fire stands about 170 but could grow higher because officials have not been able to conduct assessment in all of the burn zones.
Biden’s disaster declaration releases emergency funds to recovery efforts in three counties in north-eastern New Mexico where fires are still raging, as well as southern New Mexico areas where wind-driven blazes killed two people and destroyed over 200 homes in mid-April.
The aid includes grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other relief programs for people and businesses, a White House statement said.
Officials at Los Alamos National Laboratory were warily tracking another wildfire that crept within about 5 myl (8km) of facilities at the US nuclear research complex.
Dan Pearson, a fire behavior specialist with the federal government, said weather forecasters predict two days of relatively light winds before the return of strong spring gales.
“Our prayers are working because we’ve had advantageous winds throughout the fire area today," hy het gesê. “We’ll take advantage of this fact over the next few days. What we can do is build resilient pockets.”