SANTA FE, NM (AP) — The governor of New Mexico is asking for additional federal assistance to respond to wildfires in the north of the state, including one that is the second-largest in the state’s history and that officials estimate has destroyed hundreds of homes.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said Friday in a letter to President Joe Biden that New Mexico needs more help than is being provided under the president’s recent disaster declaration.
The response needed, including immediate funding for rubble removal and “a full range of emergency protective measures,” exceeds the state’s capacity and the federal government must bear 100% of the costs because part of the fire was caused by embers carried by the fire. wind from a prescribed burn in the Santa Fe National Forest, the governor said.
This fire has since merged with another and has grown to 1,133 square kilometers. The 5-week combined fire threatened the small town of Las Vegas, New Mexico, before being stopped on the outskirts of town last week. Firefighters continue to work to keep the fire out in several rural communities.
Officials said on Saturday that weather conditions still included high temperatures and low humidity, but that less smoke allowed firefighting aircraft to soar through the skies for the second day in a row to fight the blaze.
Wildfires broke out this spring in several western US states, including California, Colorado and Arizona. Forecasts for the rest of spring do not bode well for the West, with drought and warmer weather brought on by climate change exacerbating the danger of wildfires.
Nationwide, more than 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers) have burned so far this year — the most at this point in time since 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
In Colorado, a wildfire southwest of Colorado Springs has grown to 3.8 square kilometers overnight and is 10% contained, officials with the Teller County Sheriff’s Office said Saturday morning.
The fire, now known as the High Park Fire, started Thursday near the former mining town of Cripple Creek. The cause of the fire remains unknown.
As of Thursday night, at least 120 people from 40 households had evacuated the area, the Teller County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook.
Officials say the fire could continue to grow as wind gusts are expected to reach 56 km/h. Winds are expected to subside around 2pm, which could help with firefighting efforts.
In New Mexico, the largest wildfire has a perimeter of 805 kilometers, longer than the distance between San Francisco and San Diego, and was contained by just 27%. Another fire to the west, near Los Alamos, burned 184 square kilometers and was contained by 23%.
Nearly 3,000 firefighters and other personnel are fighting the two fires.
Firefighters said the biggest fire destroyed at least 473 structures, including homes and other buildings. Lujan Grisham’s office on Friday provided an updated estimate that 262 homes had been destroyed, but emphasized that authorities had been unable to safely enter many burned areas to assess the damage.
In another development, Republican leaders in the New Mexican Chamber on Friday called for the state to join a federal investigation into the treatment of the prescribed burning that started the worst fire.
“It is our most 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.
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