Warnings of critical fire conditions encompassed much of the southwestern United States on Saturday as crews in northern New Mexico worked to contain the growth of the nation’s largest active wildfire.
The seven-week fire, the largest in New Mexico history, has consumed 491 square miles (1,272 square kilometers) of forest in rugged terrain east of Santa Fe since it began in April as two planned fires.
Crews patrolled the partially leveled areas and cleared and cut containment lines, including the main ones near the fire, while bulldozers scraped support lines further out.
The National Weather Service issued red flag warnings of critical fire conditions for parts of Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah. Those conditions are a combination of gusty winds, low relative humidity, and dry vegetation.
The return of hotter, drier weather with stronger winds posed a threat of increased fire activity over the Memorial Day weekend, prompting authorities to urge the public to be vigilant to potential fire sources. of fire.
“The last thing we need right now is another ignition,” said Jayson Coil, operations section chief.
Wind gusts of up to 80 km/h (50 mph) with critical fire conditions are forecast to continue through Monday, followed by more favorable weather later next week, according to Bruno Rodriguez, meteorologist with the management team. of fires.
High winds could fan the flames and cause the fire to jump containment lines and move forward, said John Chester, head of firefighting operations.
“Imagine traveling in your car and the flames can overtake you. That’s the kind of extreme fire behavior we’re talking about,” Chester added.
About 3,000 firefighters and other personnel were assigned to the fire, which was about 48% contained.
Initial estimates indicate the fire has destroyed at least 330 homes, but state officials expect the number of homes and other structures consumed by the flames to rise to more than 1,000 as further assessments are made.