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Residents of New Mexico are preparing for extreme conditions of forest fires

As most of the thick smoke from wildfires blew out of the city, residents of this small town in northern New Mexico tried to regain a sense of normalcy on Saturday as their rural neighbors shrank amid forecasts of extreme fire conditions.

Shops and restaurants reopened, the historic center was no longer inhabited only by firefighters, but there was a wide sense of anxiety, loss and caution of what lay ahead.

“It’s literally like living under a dark cloud,” said Liz Birmingham, whose daughter had constant smoke headaches. “It’s annoying.”

While the city seemed spared danger for now, the countryside was still in danger as the fire was caused by winds so fierce that all firefighting planes had to be stopped. And the worst is yet to come.

The National Weather Service predicts a combination of strong winds, high temperatures and low humidity to create an “extremely dangerous and possibly historic stretch of critical to extreme fire weather conditions” in a matter of days.

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About 1,400 firefighters are working frantically to contain the largest blaze in the United States. The blaze, which has been raging for more than a month, has blackened more than 269 square miles (696 square kilometers) – an area larger than the city of Chicago.

Part of the fire was started by forest service employees who lost control of the prescribed incineration, designed to reduce the risk of fire. State leaders have called on the federal government for accountability, including reparations.

Across the country, nearly 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers) have been burned so far this year, with 2018 being the last time such a large fire has been reported so far, according to the National Interdepartmental Fire Center. And forecasts for the rest of the spring do not bode well for the West, where long-term droughts and higher temperatures caused by climate change are combined to exacerbate the threat of wildfires.

Thousands of residents have been evacuated by flames that have engulfed large areas of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northeastern New Mexico.

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The main threat of the fire is now in the north, where flames burning vegetation clogging the forest floor are threatening several small rural communities, said fire spokesman Ryan Berlin.

Firefighters, who usually rely on calmer winds and lower temperatures to make progress in the evening, have been hampered by unexpectedly strong winds at night.

The threat to Las Vegas, a city of 13,000, has been reduced after vegetation was cleared to create boundary lines. Local authorities on Saturday allowed residents of several areas on the northwestern outskirts of the city to return home, Berlin said.

The city looked like a ghost town earlier in the week, with closed businesses, closed schools and an empty tourist area, but for firefighters’ rest. By Saturday, he was in a state of partial recovery.

National Guard troops carried suitcases of water, people lined up to enlist the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich, DN.M., met with local officials and toured the shelter, where some of the displaced are housed.

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“We don’t know if our houses are on fire or will stop,” said Domingo Martinez, who was evacuated from provincial Manuelitas northwest of Las Vegas. “I hope it calms down so we can go home.”

Martinez, who is staying with his son in the eastern part of the city, visited an old friend and neighbor who had lived in the high school shelter for 15 days.

Outside of school, Martinez received a free haircut from Jessica Aragon, a local hairdresser who volunteered.

“I love that everyone gathers,” Aragon said. “I think a smile is worth a thousand words.”

Birmingham was one of four dog owners who led German Shepherds and a black Labrador on an obedience course in a park next to a library. They were all touched in some way by the fire.

One was a construction worker whose jobs were reduced to ashes.

Firefighters warned Las Vegas residents that they should still be ready to leave and not leave their guards down because the winds will intensify. Strong winds and rising smoke will also make it difficult – or impossible – to fly helicopters, falling water, and planes that emit flammable substances.

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On a mountain ridge outside the city, a careless line of red retarder could be seen in the trees. Residents prayed that the line and the rock wall would endure.

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Mellie reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press authors Susan Montoya Brian, Felicia Fonseca of Flagstaff, Arizona and Paul Davenport, and Michel A. Monroe of Phoenix contributed to this report.

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

Residents of New Mexico are preparing for extreme conditions of forest fires

Source link Residents of New Mexico are preparing for extreme conditions of forest fires

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