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Fire crews close in on massive New Mexico wildfire

LAS VEGAS, NEW MEXICO (AP) – Firefighters in New Mexico took advantage of diminished winds on Thursday to build more fire lines and clear brush near homes close to the fringes of the largest wildfire burning in the United States (US).

They did so ahead of what is expected to be several consecutive days of intense hot, dry and extremely windy weather that could fan the blaze.

“Today, the conditions were kind of moderated,” fire behaviour analyst Dan Pearson said during a largely hopeful evening update by the US Forest Service and law enforcement officials. “And tomorrow is going to be another good day.”

But Pearson warned that starting today, clear skies will bring more intense solar heat accompanied by 48-kilometre-per-hour winds with days of high winds to follow.

The fire has marched across 669-square-kilometre of high alpine forest and grasslands at the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains, destroying dozens of homes and prompting evacuations for thousands of families, many of whom have called the Sangre de Cristo Mountains home since their Spanish ancestors first settled the region centuries ago.

Leonard Padilla and five-year-old Ivan Padilla watch a wildfire burning near Las Vegas, New Mexico. PHOTO: AP

US President Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration that brings new financial resources to the areas devastated by fire since early April.

The aid includes grants for temporary housing and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other relief programmes for people and businesses.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham travelled through northern New Mexico on Wednesday and Thursday to survey the damage and chat with affected residents at a humanitarian kitchen, an evacuation shelter and an elementary school.

The start of the conflagration has been traced in part to a preventive fire initiated by the US Forest Service to reduce flammable vegetation.

The blaze escaped control, merging with another wildfire of unknown origin.

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