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Fires hit Southwest, New Mexico’s season ‘dangerously early’

AP – New Mexico faces a long and potentially devastating wildfire season, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said on Saturday, as Southwestern wildfires cause destruction and force people from their homes.

Hundreds of structures were lost in a growing number of wind-driven blazes across drought-stricken New Mexico, Lujan Grisham said on Saturday.

Over 20 active wildfires were burning in at least 16 of the state’s 33 counties, in the wake of winds that gusted up to 90 mph on Friday, Lujan said during a briefing streamed online. “So half the state has a fire issue.”

With so many fires burning in April, well before the normal May or June start of the wildfire season, “our risk season is incredibly and dangerously early”, Lujan Grisham said.

Wildfire has become a year-round threat in the West given changing conditions that include earlier snowmelt and rain coming later in the fall, scientist have said. The problems have been exacerbated by decades of fire suppression and poor management along with a more than 20-year mega-drought that studies link to human-caused climate change.

New Mexico as of Saturday had the most major wildfires burning of any state, though neighbouring Arizona also had large fires that included one that burned 30 homes near Flagstaff last Tuesday.

Winds and temperatures in New Mexico diminished on Saturday but remained strong enough to still fan fires, and dozens of evacuation orders remained in place.

The Calf Fire burns northwest of Las Vegas in San Miguel County. PHOTO: AP