SANTA FE, NM (AP) – The governor of New Mexico is asking for additional federal assistance to respond to wildfires burning in the upstate, including one that is the second largest in the history of the State and which authorities say destroyed hundreds of homes.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a letter to President Joe Biden on Friday that New Mexico needs more help than provided under the president’s recent disaster declaration.
The response needed, including immediate funding for debris removal and “a full range of emergency protective measures,” is beyond the capabilities of the state and the federal government would have to bear 100% of the costs because part of the fire was ignited by embers blown by the wind. a prescribed burn in the Santa Fe National Forest, the governor said.
That fire has since merged with another fire and grown to 437 square miles (1,133 square kilometers). The 5-week combined blaze threatened the small town of Las Vegas in New Mexico for a while before being brought to a halt just outside of town last week. Fire crews continue to work to keep the fire away from several rural communities.
Officials said on Saturday the weather conditions still included unnecessarily high temperatures and low humidity, but less smoke allowed firefighting planes to fly in for a second straight day to fight the blaze.
At one point late Saturday afternoon, the column of smoke from the fire reached 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), creating the possibility that it could collapse in on itself and create swirling winds near of the ground. Fire crews along part of the blaze’s western flank have been warned of the potential danger, fire department spokesman Mike De Fries said.
Wildfires erupted this spring in several western US states, including California, Colorado and Arizona. The forecast for the rest of the spring does not bode well for the West, with drought and warmer weather brought on by climate change increasing the danger of wildfires.
Nationwide, more than 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers) have burned so far this year — the most so far since 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
In Colorado, a fire burning southwest of Colorado Springs has grown to 1.5 square miles (3.8 square kilometers) overnight and is 10% contained, officials from the Colorado Sheriff’s Office said Saturday morning. Teller County.
The blaze, now known as the High Park Fire, broke out near the former mining town of Cripple Creek on Thursday. The cause of the fire remains unknown.
As of Thursday evening, at least 120 people from 40 residences had evacuated the area, the Teller County Sheriff’s Office announced on Facebook.
Officials say the fire could continue to grow as gusts are expected to reach 35 mph (56 kph). Winds are expected to ease around 2 p.m., which could help firefighting efforts.
In New Mexico, the largest wildfire has a perimeter of 500 miles (805 kilometers), longer than the distance between San Francisco and San Diego, and was only 27% contained. Another fire to the west near Los Alamos burned 71 square miles (184 square kilometers) and was 23% contained.
Nearly 3,000 firefighters and other personnel are battling the two fires.
Firefighters said the largest blaze destroyed at least 473 structures, including homes and other buildings. Lujan Grisham’s office on Friday provided an updated estimate that 262 homes had been destroyed, but stressed that authorities had been unable to safely enter many burned areas to assess the damage.
In other developments, Republican leaders in Mexico’s New House on Friday called on the state to join a federal investigation into the handling of the prescribed burn that started the worst blaze.
“We sincerely believe that the people of northern New Mexico deserve an impartial and detailed investigation by parties other than those employed by the federal government,” the GOP lawmakers said in a letter to Lujan Grisham, a Democrat.
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