New Mexico’s governor on Tuesday urged President Joe Biden to declare a disaster as firefighters scramble to clear the brush, build fire lines and spray water to prevent the largest fire in the United States from spreading to more homes in the United States foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
During a briefing on the fire burning in the northeastern state, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a request for a presidential disaster declaration to be sent to the White House in hopes of releasing financial support for recovery efforts. She said it was important that the statement be made at the front end, rather than waiting for the fire to be extinguished.
“I’m not willing to wait,” said Lujan Grisham, a first-term Democrat who is running for re-election. “I have families that don’t know what tomorrow is like, I have families that are trying to navigate their children and health resources, figuring out a living, and they’re in every single little community and it has to feel like they are her alone out there.”
In the small northeastern New Mexico city of Las Vegas, residents were already raising concerns about grocery store closures as some people decided to leave before the blazes even though no evacuations had been ordered.
Fire managers told an evening briefing at the local community college that Tuesday’s spread slowed somewhat, increasing the amount of newly charred land slightly to about 231 square miles (598 square kilometers) of mountain slopes, towering ponderosa pines and meadows.
Officials have reported that about 170 homes were destroyed, about 15,500 homes were forcibly evacuated and that the Las Vegas State Mental Hospital remained evacuated. Schools in the community have canceled classes through at least Wednesday.
Dan Pearson, a US Forest Service fire behavior analyst, called Tuesday “a brief respite from the extreme conditions we’ve experienced,” but warned winds are expected to pick up and shift Wednesday, pushing fire and smoke toward Las Vegas will drift.
“Tomorrow we return to red flag criteria,” Pearson said, adding that forecasts on Thursday and Friday called for better firefighting conditions before winds pick up and gusts to 50 mph (80 km/h) or more over the weekend whip.
A line of fire engines and their crews were busy protecting homes and other buildings on the outskirts of Las Vegas Tuesday while bulldozers cleared more fire lines on the outskirts. Air tanker and helicopter pilots took advantage of a break in the thick smoke and falling ash to drop fire retardants and water.
New Mexico has been the focus of the nation’s recent spate of hot, dry, and windy weather. Meteorologists also issued warnings for parts of Arizona and Colorado, and Texas authorities urged people there to exercise caution after crews in that state had to respond to multiple new fires on Monday.
Authorities in northeastern New Mexico said the blazes were a few miles from Las Vegas, which serves as the economic center for most of northeastern New Mexico and the rancher and farming families who have called the rural region home for generations. United World College and New Mexico Highlands University are located here.
The governor said during her briefing that given the ground the fire has covered and the villages it has torn through over the past week, the number of homes destroyed is likely to be much higher.
San Miguel County officials said Tuesday they were unable to return to the burned areas to continue investigations because the conditions were too dangerous.
Wildfires have become a year-round threat in the drought-stricken West, and they’re moving faster and burning hotter than ever because of climate change, scientists and fire experts say. Firefighters have also said many forested areas have become overgrown and unhealthy and that vegetation build-up can worsen wildfire conditions.
Nationally, the National Interagency Fire Center reported Tuesday that a dozen large, uncontrolled fires have burned about 1,000 square kilometers in five states, including New Mexico. Nearly 3,500 forest firefighters and support staff are seconded to fires across the country.
On the north flank of the Great New Mexico Fire, crews were trying to keep the flames from reaching the town of Mora as the wind shifted. Bulldozed lines of fire held, but state officials urged residents who have refused to leave the area to reconsider, saying it was a dangerous situation.
Northeast of Las Vegas, across a freeway, is Zamora Ranch. Owner Kenny Zamora has opened his pens and pens to migrant cattle, including 160 cattle, 50 horses, 70 sheep, 10 goats and a few pigs.
José Griego and his wife Casey Taylor brought 10 horses and a small donkey to the ranch. Each has their own story: One was a wedding present for the couple. Another is Griego’s favorite horse for rounding up cattle.
“Anything that breathes is out, and that’s what matters,” said Taylor, who teaches science at a nearby community.
State livestock inspectors said green flags are being flown at the entrances to ranches where livestock are left during the evacuation so responders will know later.
The blaze last week merged with another blaze started in early April when a mandatory fire set by land managers escaped containment. The cause of the other fire is still under investigation.
Lujan Grisham said on Tuesday that the federal government bears a certain responsibility.
Another New Mexico wildfire burning through forested areas in the Northeast has forced the evacuation of about 800 homes and charred 80 square miles in the process.
A separate fire burning in the mountains near Los Alamos National Laboratory prompted the evacuation of about 200 homes. It charred more than 39 square miles (101 square kilometers) and destroyed at least three homes.
https://nypost.com/2022/05/04/new-mexico-governor-michelle-grisham-seeking-us-disaster-status-for-wildfire/ New Mexico Gov. Michelle Grisham is applying for U.S. disaster status for wildfires