New Mexico governor is asking for additional federal aid to respond to wildfires in the north of the state, including one that is the second largest in state history and that officials estimate have destroyed hundreds of homes
SANTA FE, NM — New Mexico’s governor is requesting additional federal assistance to respond to wildfires burning in the north of the state, including one that is the second largest in state history and estimated to be of officials destroyed hundreds of homes.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a letter to President Joe Biden on Friday that New Mexico needs more help than is being provided under the president’s recent disaster declaration.
The response needed, including immediate funding for debris removal and “a full range of emergency protective measures,” exceeds state capabilities and the federal government would have to bear 100% of the cost, as some of the fire was started by windblown embers from a prescription burn on the Santa Fe National Forest, the governor said.
That fire has since fused with another eruption, expanding to 437 square miles (1,133 square kilometers). The 5-week-old combined fire threatened the small New Mexico town of Las Vegas for a time before being stopped just outside the city last week. Firefighters continue to work to fight fires from multiple rural communities.
Officials said on Saturday that weather conditions still included unhelpful high temperatures and low humidity, but less smoke allowed firefighting planes to take to the skies for the second day in a row to fight the blaze.
At one point late Saturday afternoon, the smoke column from the fire reached 30,000 feet (9,144 meters), raising the possibility that it could collapse on its own, creating whirlwinds close to the ground. Fire crews along part of the western flank of the blaze were alerted to that potential hazard, fire department spokesman Mike De Fries said.
Wildfires have broken out in several western states this spring, including California, Colorado and Arizona. Forecasts for the rest of the spring do not bode well for the West, with drought and warmer weather due to climate change exacerbating the danger of wildfires.
Nationally, more than 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers) have been burned so far this year — the most to this point since 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
In Colorado, a fire southwest of Colorado Springs grew to 3.8 square miles overnight and has been contained 10%, Teller County Sheriff’s Office officials said Saturday morning.
The blaze, now known as the High Park Fire, broke out near the former mining town of Cripple Creek on Thursday. The cause of the fire is still unknown.
By Thursday night, at least 120 people from 40 homes had evacuated the area, the Teller County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Facebook.
Officials say the fire could continue to grow as wind gusts are expected to reach 35 mph (56 kph). The wind is expected to die down around 2 p.m., which can help the fire service.
In New Mexico, the largest wildfire has a circumference of 800 miles (805 kilometers), longer than the distance between San Francisco and San Diego, and was only 27% under control. Another fire to the west near Los Alamos has burned 184 square kilometers and was 23% under control.
Nearly 3,000 firefighters and other personnel are fighting the two fires.
Fire officials said the largest fire destroyed at least 473 buildings, including homes and other buildings. Lujan Grisham’s office on Friday released an updated estimate that 262 homes had been destroyed, but stressed authorities have not been able to safely enter many burned areas to assess the damage.
In other developments, Republican leaders of the New Mexican House on Friday called on the state to participate in a federal investigation into the treatment of the prescription burn that sparked the worst fire.
“It is our sincere belief that the people of northern New Mexico deserve an impartial and detailed investigation conducted by parties other than those employed by the federal government,” GOP lawmakers said in a letter to Lujan Grisham, a Democrat. .