Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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More evacuations expected near dangerous Southwest wildfires

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO (AP) – Thousands of firefighters battled destructive wildfires in the Southwest as more residents prepared to evacuate into the weekend in northern New Mexico where strong winds and dangerously dry conditions have made the blazes hard to contain.

The biggest fire in the United States (US) grew to more than 117 square miles through the afternoon northeast of Santa Fe. Gusty winds prevented any aerial attacks by midmorning and crews lost some of the containment they had established in previous days.

The rapid rate of the spread of the fire was exceeding dire predictions in some areas, Incident Commander Carl Schwope said on Friday night. “We’re in a very dangerous situation. Evacuation statuses are changing as we speak,” he warned at a briefing in Las Vegas, New Mexico, about 50 miles east of Santa Fe.

More air and ground forces were on the way, he said, to fortify the nearly 1,000 firefighters on the fire lines there and winds that gusted up to 65 mph were beginning to subside as nightfall approached.

There were no immediate reports of any new structures have been lost since the local sheriff confirmed on Thursday night at least 166 homes have been destroyed in northeast New Mexico’s rural San Miguel County.

But erratic wind shifts in some of the driest conditions the region has seen in years were forecast again yesterday, and authorities were making preparations to evacuate some residents as far north as Taos.

A Cochiti Fire Department vehicle heads towards a plume of smoke from the Cerro Pelado Fire burning in the Jemez Mountains in Cochiti, New Mexico. PHOTO: AP