More than 1,000 firefighters battle largest US wildfire
Since merging into one blaze a week ago, the Calf Canyon and Hermit's Peak fires have destroyed 277 structures, including at least 166 homes, according to updates from state fire officials.
More than 1,000 firefighters, aided by bulldozers and aircraft, fought the largest active wildfire in the US after strong winds pushed it across some containment lines and closer to a town in northern New Mexico.
According to preliminary overnight mapping imagery, the wildfire grew in size from 103 square miles (266.8 square kilometers) on Friday to 152 square miles (393.7 square kilometers) by early Saturday.
A spokesperson for the fire management team, Mike Johnson, said that ash carried seven miles through the air fell on Las Vegas, a city of about 13,000 people, and firefighters were attempting to keep the blaze from spreading.
Calmer winds aided the firefighting effort on Saturday, after gusts accelerated the fire's advance to the point where "we were watching the fire march about a mile every hour" on Friday, according to Jayson Coil, a fire operations official.
On Friday, winds gusted up to 65 mph (105 kph) before fading as nightfall approached. By Saturday, planes that dump fire retardant and water could be back in the air, assisting ground crews and bulldozers.
The rapid growth of the fire, on Friday, forced crews to repeatedly change positions due to threatening conditions, but they were able to immediately re-engage without being forced to retreat, according to Coil. There were no reported injuries.
On April 22, the winds blew the flames furiously across the landscape of northern New Mexico. Officials said that since then, crews have worked to limit structural damage by installing sprinklers, pumps, and hoses, as well as clearing vegetation around buildings.
Jesus Romero, the assistant manager for San Miguel County, said that the number of people forced to evacuate largely rural areas plus a subdivision near Las Vegas has more than doubled with the fire's recent expansion, from 1,500 to 2,000 to between 3,000 and 4,000.
According to officials, the fire destroyed 277 structures, including at least 166 homes.
Other wildfires in New Mexico and Arizona were still raging on Saturday. The fires are burning unusually hot and fast for this time of year, especially in the southwest, where experts say some of the timber is drier than kiln-dried wood.
According to scientists, wildfires have become a year-round threat in the West due to changing conditions such as earlier snowmelt and rain arriving later in the autumn.
The problems have been exacerbated by decades of fire suppression and poor management, as well as a more than 20-year megadrought linked to human-caused climate change, according to studies.
Last year, the California Dixie Fire becomes the largest-ever single fire in the state's history. This fire, according to The New York Times, has a detrimental radius of over 1,000 miles (1609 km), creating a pall of smoke over Denver, Colorado, 1100 miles (1770 km) to the east.