LAS VEGAS, NM ( Associated Press) — Weather conditions described as potentially historic were on tap for New Mexico on Saturday and for the next several days more than 1,400 firefighters and a fleet of airplanes and helicopters blazed the largest blaze around Worked feverishly to strengthen the lines. America
Many families have already been rendered homeless and thousands of residents have been evacuated from the flames, which have engulfed the massive Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northeastern New Mexico.
Residents along the shifting fire front were hoping that all the work done in recent days to clean brush, install sprinklers, run hose lines, and use bulldozers to scrape the lines would bring the fire to the small town of Las Vegas. will stop you from reaching. Other villages in the north and south.
“There is uncertainty and fear about how the winds are going to affect the fires on a day-to-day basis,” said Elmo Baca, president of the Las Vegas Community Foundation. “Once people are kicked out of an area, they can’t go back, so they get stuck in anxiety.”
Read more: New Mexico wildfire threatens Rocky Mountain town
Las Vegas was like a ghost town earlier in the week, with restaurants and grocery stores shuttered, schools closed or pivoted to remote-only options, and the tourist district empty but firefighters to rest. for.
As of Saturday, after days of work protecting the city of 13,000, some businesses had reopened as residents apprehensive about trying to return to something like regular life.
In a park next to the library, four dog owners took a dog obedience class under a complete gray sky. These included one whose daughter suffered a constant headache from the smoke of wildfires and another whose husband was a construction worker whose work sites were all turned to ashes.
“It’s literally like living under a dark cloud. It’s unnecessary,” said 66-year-old Liz Birmingham.
Scott Able, a fire operations official, said the recent work done by fire crews to protect Las Vegas “looked really cool” but continued on Saturday. “We want to make sure all this is happening.”
The now-month-old fire has darkened more than 267 square miles (691 square kilometers) – an area larger than the city of Chicago.
The outbreak has been traced back to April 6 in part of a preventive fire launched by the US Forest Service to reduce combustible vegetation. The fire escaped from control, merging into another wildfire of unknown origin.
Nationwide, close to 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers) have burned so far this year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, the last time so many fires across the country were in 2018. And predictions for the rest of the spring don’t bode well for the West, where prolonged droughts and warmer temperatures due to climate change have worsened wildfire risk.
Forest areas in southern New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado also saw an early start to evacuation and destruction of homes with blazes last month.
Read more: Dangerous Southwest wildfires force more evacuations
Incident Commander Dave Belles said firefighters working in northeastern New Mexico are focusing on protecting homes and other structures that hold generations of sacred memories.
“It’s hard when I see so many people displaced,” he said, noting that there have been many hugs around the city.
The crew has previously observed extreme wind events that typically last a day, perhaps two. But Belles said the event could last for five or more days with gusts of 50 to 60 mph (80 to 96 kph). He also warned that the flames could be carried up to a mile away.
“This is an extreme wind event that is unprecedented,” Belles said.
Another major wildfire burning in New Mexico was within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the nation’s major facilities for nuclear research and the future production of plutonium components for nuclear weapons. .
In an effort to reduce the intensity of the fire and the possibility of a fire on the spot, crews have burned vegetation prior to the fire. In the laboratory, water tankers, a helicopter and heavy equipment are in position and firefighters will patrol the perimeter as the flames come closer.
Some nuclear monitoring groups and environmentalists have raised concerns about containers of nuclear waste on laboratory property. State officials said it included six shipments of 109 containers awaiting transport to the federal government’s underground waste repository.
Radiological and other potentially hazardous materials are stored in containers engineered and tested to withstand extreme environments, including heat from fires, lab officials said Friday.
Montoya Bryan reported from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Associated Press writers Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this report.