Fires hit season in southwest, New Mexico “dangerously early”

Flagstaff, Arizona “New Mexico is facing a long and potentially devastating season of forest fires,” Gov. Michel Lujan Grisham said Saturday, as forest fires in the southwest wreak havoc and forced people to flee their homes.

Hundreds of structures have been lost in a growing number of wind-caused fires in drought-stricken New Mexico, Lujan Grisham said on Saturday.

More than 20 active forest fires are burning in at least 16 of the state’s 33 counties due to winds reaching 90 miles per hour (145 km / h) on Friday, Luhang said during a briefing online. “So half the state has a fire problem.”

With so many fires burning in April, long before the normal start of the forest fire season in May or June, “our high-risk season is incredibly and dangerously early,” Lujan Grisham said.

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.


New Mexico had the biggest wildfires in any state since Saturday, although neighboring Arizona also had major wildfires, including one that burned 30 homes near Flagstaff on Tuesday.

Winds and temperatures in New Mexico eased on Saturday, but remained strong enough to continue to ignite fires, and dozens of evacuation orders remained in effect.

More than 200 structures have burned down, Lujan Grisham said, without giving details of the locations or number of homes included in the census.

As fires are still burning and charred areas are too dangerous to enter, “it is not safe for you or us to have a full assessment to date,” she said, noting that the number of lost structures will increase.

She urged residents to refrain from using fireworks or burning garbage and to evacuate when fire warnings are issued. “You have to leave. The risks are too great, “she said.

The biggest fires were concentrated in northern New Mexico, where two large fires merged and many villages were threatened by oncoming flames as residents listened to calls to leave.


Maggie Mulligan said Friday that her dogs panicked as she and her husband packed them, agonized that they had to leave their horses and fleeing a fast-moving forest fire to their home.

“We don’t know what’s next,” she said. “We don’t know if we can go back to the horses.”

Mulligan and her husband, Bill Gombas, 67, were among the anxious residents who hastily evacuated their homes Friday before the ominous wildfires, fueled by dry conditions and fierce winds.

The combined fires burned some structures, but no data are available, said fire officer Mike Johnson. “They managed to save some structures and we know that we lost other structures that we failed to protect.

Clouds of dust and smoke from the wind covered the sky near the fires, said Jesus Romero, assistant governor of San Miguel County. “All the ugliness that spring brings to New Mexico is what they’re doing.”


Approximately 500 homes in San Miguel are in rural areas of Mora and San Miguel counties covered by evacuation orders or warning notices, Romero said.

Elsewhere in the region, the fire risk in the Denver area on Friday was the highest in more than a decade, according to the National Weather Service, due to off-season temperatures in the 1980s, combined with strong winds and very dry conditions.

Lena Attensio and her husband, whose family has lived in the nearby Rosiada area for five generations, went out on Friday as the winds picked up. She said most people take the threat seriously.

“As a community as a whole, everyone just comes together to support each other and just take care of the things we need now. And then it’s in God’s hands, “she said as the wind blew for miles in the Las Vegas community of New Mexico, where evacuees were gathering.

Areas ordered to evacuate on Saturday due to another major fire that is still growing in northern New Mexico include the Filmont Scout Ranch. Meanwhile, the nearby town of Simaron remains warning of a possible evacuation, according to Colfax County officials.


The Boy Scout Ranch, owned and operated by American Boy Scouts, attracts thousands of summer visitors, but officials said there were no scouts on the property and staff had previously been evacuated due to poor air quality.

The fire in the Flagstaff area burned many other buildings as the flames swept through rural areas on Tuesday.

A change in the wind caused crews to work on Saturday to keep the fire from moving up mountain slopes or to homes in rural areas near areas that burned down on Tuesday, said Fire Information Officer Dick Fleischmann. “It worried us a little.”


Davenport reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writers Felicia Fonseca of Flagstaff, Arizona, Susan Montoya Brian of Albuquerque, Scott Sonner of Reno, Nevada and Colleen Slevin of Denver contributed to the report. Athanasio reports from Las Vegas, New Mexico, and is a member of the Associated Press Corps / Report on the America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a national non-profit service program that accommodates journalists in local newsrooms to report on issues that are not covered. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.

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Fires hit season in southwest, New Mexico “dangerously early”

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