SANTA FE, NM –
The largest wildfire in North America slowed and came to a near standstill in northern New Mexico on Tuesday amid light rain and some snow in the mountains as nearly 3,000 firefighters struggled to keep up with fire forecasts. worse in the coming days.
Memorial Day weekend historically marked the beginning of the main wildfire season across many parts of the Southwest. But wildfires in the wilderness have burned an area larger than Delaware this year in extremely dry conditions caused by prolonged drought and climate change.
In Arizona, a short-lived new fire forced evacuations Tuesday near Flagstaff. Authorities investigating the cause said they were looking for a person of interest near where it began half a mile (0.8 km) from the Lowell Observatory.
Fire officials in New Mexico said they hope to continue clearing combustible vegetation and deploying planes to tackle smoldering forests Wednesday before windier, hotter conditions, drier again at the end of the week.
On Friday, “fire weather is starting to enter a critical phase where we’re likely to see more development and fires moving,” said Stewart Turner, fire behavior analyst for the Forest Service. know at a Tuesday night briefing.
The fire, which started about seven weeks ago in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains east of Santa Fe, is surrounded by 41% of crevices and barriers that could prevent a wildfire from spreading further.
The fire has consumed more than 486 square miles (1,260 square kilometers) of wood, grassland and brush, with evacuations required for weeks. Its circumference spans 634 miles (1,020 km) – more than the distance between New York City and Detroit.
It is among six major active fires in the state that have burned 536 square miles (1,388 square kilometers).
So far this year, wildfires have burned across about 2,650 square miles (6,860 square kilometers) of the United States. That’s nearly double the average fire rate for this time of year, according to a national center for wildfire coordination.
Jayson Coil, one of the chiefs of operations in New Mexico, said what would keep me “awake at night” were hidden hotspots where tree roots were extremely dry and dead logs smoldered under the surface. The ground can quickly burn.
“You can have one of the (logs) stuck in a snowbank, but the wood will keep the heat in there,” he said Tuesday night.
“Once one side of them burns, it’s going to be like a cigar. It can take a few days depending on what’s around it, but the fire will climb down, stay in there and then it will come out to the side. there,” he said.
A wildfire on the outskirts of Los Alamos National Laboratory was 85 percent contained as of Tuesday. In the vicinity, Bandelier National Monument is preparing to reopen some areas to visitors on Friday.
In southwestern New Mexico, a fire raged through parts of the Gila National Forest and remote areas.
Stricter campfire and smoking restrictions will go into effect Wednesday or Thursday in all six national forests in Arizona because of the growing fire threat, Forest Service officials said today. Tuesday.