New Mexico fires gain ground amid dry, windy conditions
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — It’s a simple recipe that requires only a couple ingredients, and New Mexico has them all.
Strong winds, low humidity and dry conditions that stem from two decades of persistent drought combined Tuesday for another day of critical fire weather across New Mexico. Forecasters warned of similar conditions elsewhere in the West as land managers and firefighters braced for what was expected to be another busy season.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham issued a plea on social media: “Do not burn!”
She joined the chorus of forecasters and authorities who were urging people to take precautions as red flag and high wind warnings were issued for a large swath spanning the Central Plains, West Texas, all of New Mexico and parts of Arizona.
Two new wind-whipped fires reported Tuesday afternoon in the mountains of southeastern New Mexico prompted authorities to call for immediate evacuations.
The National Weather Service in Albuquerque shared satellite imagery of a fire signature near the community of Ruidoso and tweeted: “Take this fire seriously. This is a very dangerous situation.”
In central New Mexico, authorities confirmed that at least one home and numerous barns, sheds and other outbuildings were damaged or destroyed by a fire burning along the Rio Grande in a rural area south of Albuquerque. About 200 structures were threatened, and the air was thick with smoke and dust.
Bulldozers were used to build a barrier between the fire and homes in the area. Managers were hoping for a break in the wind so a helicopter could drop water on the flames.
The fire had burned more than one square mile since being sparked Monday afternoon. That included a large portion of a wildlife conservation area along the river.
The cause remains under investigation.
In northern New Mexico, steep terrain and gusts up to 60 mph were keeping crews from directly attacking a fire near the community of Las Vegas. That blaze — which started last week when a prescribed fire jumped its containment lines — also forced evacuations.
About 100 people found shelter earlier this week at a school gym in Las Vegas, and San Miguel County authorities began evacuating several more small communities Tuesday afternoon as the fire made a big push to the northeast.
Some people have criticized the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to conduct a prescribed fire amid erratic spring weather conditions. Federal officials have said conditions were calm most of the day before unforeseen winds ignited spot fires beyond the project’s boundaries.
An internal review is expected to be done once the fire is suppressed, officials said.