Salem Radio Network News Tuesday, May 24, 2022

U.S.

Villages told to evacuate as New Mexico wildfire pushes north

By Andrew Hay

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) – Two mountain villages were told to evacuate in northern New Mexico on Sunday as strong winds pushed the largest active wildfire in the United States through centuries-old farming and ranching communities.

Residents of Holman and Chacon got text messages around 2:30 p.m. (2030 GMT) telling them to “Go” as wind gusts of up to 60 mph (97 kmh) sent embers flying out of forest into the Mora valley, residents and fire officials said.

“The threat is up towards that area now because it’s burned past some areas that are lower in the valley,” said Gabriel MelĂ©ndez, a native of Mora.

Around 12,000 households in two northern New Mexico counties have been told to flee the second-largest wildfire in state history which began in part after a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) prescribed burn went out of control.

The so-called Hermits Peak Calf Canyon fire is moving through forest that is overcrowded and congested with dead trees after a century of USFS policy to put fires out within hours and court injunctions on logging since the mid 1990s, according to forest biologist Joshua Sloan at New Mexico Highlands University.

Climate change has significantly lowered snowpacks and the area is suffering its worst drought in at least 500 years, according to tree-ring research in the nearby Jemez Mountains.

A fire in that range around 60 miles west of the Mora Valley grew to around 40,000 acres (16,817 hectares) on Sunday, burning within 7 miles (11 km)of Los Alamos’ nuclear weapons laboratory and 5 miles (8 km) from Native American structures in Bandelier National Monument.

The Hermits Peak Calf Canyon fire has torched 176,273 acres (71,335), an area approaching the size of all five boroughs of New York City.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Diane Craft)

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