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Bulldozers, aircraft used to fight fires near New Mexico City

More than 1,000 firefighters, backed by bulldozers and planes, battled the largest active wildfire in the United States on Saturday after strong winds pushed it across some restrictive lines and closer to a small town in northern New Mexico.

Cartographs show that the fire, which burned at least 166 homes, rose from 103 square miles (266 square kilometers) on Friday to 152 square miles (393 square kilometers) earlier Saturday, officials said. During a briefing on Saturday night, the fire was described as 30% under control.

Ashes carried 7 miles (11 kilometers) through the air fell on Las Vegas, with a population of about 13,000, and firefighters were trying to prevent the fire from approaching, said Mike Johnson, a spokesman for the fire department.

Calmer winds on Saturday helped put out the blaze as gusts accelerated the fire to a point on Friday when “we watched the fire march about a mile every hour,” said Jason Cole, a firefighter.

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But a more extreme fire hazard is forecast for Sunday for parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado, according to the National Weather Service. Fire managers warned of windy conditions in the coming days and the effects of smoke, and officials urged residents to remain vigilant for further possible evacuation orders.

Stuart Turner, a fire behavior analyst at the fire department, warned of a “very serious week” ahead with forecast winds.

Winds in northern New Mexico reached 105 km / h on Friday before calming down as night approached. Until Saturday, planes that emit flammable substances and water may resume flights to help ground crews and bulldozers.

Rapid fires on Friday forced crews to change positions repeatedly due to threatening conditions, but they were able to rejoin immediately without being forced to retreat, Coyle said. No casualties were reported.

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The winds for the first time sent the flames to advance fiercely on April 22 in the northern landscape of New Mexico. Since then, crews have worked to reduce damage to the structure by installing sprinklers, pumps and hoses and clearing vegetation around buildings, officials said.

The fire started on April 6th, when a prescribed fire set by firefighters to clear small trees and shrubs that could ignite fires was declared out of control. This fire then merged with another forest fire a week ago.

With the recent rise in the fire, estimates of people forced to evacuate mostly rural areas plus a unit near Las Vegas have doubled from 1,500 to 2,000 to between 3,000 and 4,000, said Jesus Romero, assistant manager for San Miguel County.

Authorities said the fire destroyed 277 structures, including at least 166 homes. No updated damage estimates were available on Saturday, Romero said.

Wildfires were burning in other parts of New Mexico and Arizona on Saturday. The fires burn unusually hot and fast at this time of year, especially in the southwestern part, where experts say some of the region’s wood is drier than kiln-dried wood.

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Forest fires have become a year-round threat to the West due to changing conditions, which include earlier melting of snow and rain coming later in the fall, scientists said. The problems have been exacerbated by decades of firefighting and mismanagement, along with more than 20 years of mega-drought, which research has linked to man-made climate change.

In northern Arizona, firefighters are nearing complete control of a 30-square-mile (77-square-kilometer) fire that destroyed at least 30 homes near Flagstaff and forced hundreds to evacuate. On Friday, a national forest fire management team of the highest level returned oversight to local fire brigades.

Arizona National Forests has announced it will impose fire restrictions from next Thursday that limit campfires to developed recreation areas and restrict smoking inside vehicles, other enclosed spaces and recreation areas.

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Davenport reported from Flagstaff, Arizona. Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca of Flagstaff and Scott Soner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to the report.

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Bulldozers, aircraft used to fight fires near New Mexico City

Source link Bulldozers, aircraft used to fight fires near New Mexico City

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