Salem Radio Network News Saturday, May 28, 2022

U.S.

Raging wildfire forces New Mexico mountain valley to evacuate

By Andrew Hay

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) -Thousands of residents of northern New Mexico villages were told to evacuate on Sunday as fierce winds drove the largest active U.S. wildfire towards their drought-parched mountain valley.

Winds gusting over 40 mph (64 kph) blew embers a mile ahead of the blaze to start new fires as crews battled to stop flames entering Mora, around 40 miles (64 km) northeast of Santa Fe.

It is one of a string of farming communities in the path of the Calf Canyon fire, the most destructive of a dozen Southwest blazes that scientists say are more widespread and arriving earlier this year due to climate change.

“Where are we supposed to run to, where do we go?” said Darlene Gallegos, co-owner and manager of Mora’s local growers country market, the last grocery store to stay open in the farming community of around 1,000.

Twenty miles to the south at the other end of the 104,000 acre (42,100 hectares) megafire, residents of Las Vegas, New Mexico, were told to prepare for evacuation as winds drove the fire within 5 miles of homes near interstate highway 25, according to local officials.

Crews bulldozed firebreaks to the west and north of the historic Old West city of 14,000 to protect ranches, rural houses and the United World College in the village of Montezuma, fire official Todd Abel told a briefing.

“We’re just gritting our teeth, there’s going to be thousands of people affected,” said San Miguel County Deputy Manager Jesus Romero as ash swirled around his home in south Las Vegas.

Asked if the entire city would be told to evacuate, Romero said that could happen on Monday when winds are expected to shift and blow into the east.

Burning since April 6 around 30 miles east of Santa Fe, the fire has destroyed more than 300 properties and forced the evacuation of dozens of villages and settlements in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Will Dunham and Marguerita Choy)

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