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New Mexico wildfires: Rain brings relief

Lightning sparked a few new small fires in the drought-stricken Southwest on Monday but thunderstorms brought welcome rain to the monster fires that have raged for a month in New Mexico and now It was the largest fire in the state’s recorded history.

San Miguel County Sheriff Chris Lopez said rain is possible Monday during a news conference about the largest active fire in the United States burning east of Santa Fe.

He said at one of the command posts in Las Vegas, New Mexico, on the southeastern flank of the 465 square mile (1,204 square kilometer) blaze.

More than 2,000 firefighters remain on the front lines in the Sangre de Cristo mountains south of Taos. The fire now covers an area roughly a quarter of the size of Delaware.

More than 260 homes were burned and more evacuations were prompted over the weekend as flames moved through dry media – and in some cases dead pine and fir trees. Huge plumes of smoke can be seen from miles away, and fire and weather officials continue to regard it as an unprecedented situation.

Stepping up the air raids also helped about 1,000 firefighters continue to make progress Monday on the massive fire west of Santa Fe.

Richard Nieto, the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s wilderness fire management official, said Monday night that authorities were preparing to relax the evacuation warning as crews were pushing back the blaze. fire about 3 miles (5 km) southwest of the lab’s federal boundary.

The new lightning fire that broke out Monday includes one about 2.5 miles (4 km) from Sedona, Arizona, but fire officials said Monday night it burned less than an acre and low growth potential.

Forecasters say the weather will be unstable throughout the week with variable winds and increased humidity. But the crew should enjoy at least another day in more favorable fire conditions.

Fire behavior expert Stewart Turner said Monday night would be a “good working day for the crews”. “No doubt big growth at all.”

Monday’s relief allowed ground crews to move into position to take advantage of slow-moving drops from airmen and spills from helicopter crates to expand contingency plans for rescue routes. in the coming days further south of Santa Fe and northeast towards the Colorado line.

Nickie Johnny, an incident commander from California who is helping with the fire, said of the effort to find places many miles ahead of the blaze where crews could cut fire lines and set up defenses. player. .

Fires also burning elsewhere in New Mexico and in Colorado as well as much of the West have marked a hot, dry and windy spring. The projections for the rest of the season have not been good, with drought and warmer weather caused by climate change, exacerbating the risk of wildfires.

Colorado Springs enacted a fire ban after a series of fires spread rapidly due to hot, dry conditions, including one death from smoking. Under the ban, which went into effect Monday, smoking and grilling will be banned in parks in Colorado’s second largest city, and people grilling at home will be allowed only gas or liquid fuels, no coal. or firewood.

Burning bans and fire restrictions have also been put in place in cities and counties around New Mexico in recent weeks, with officials warning that any new fires starting would further strain fire fighting resources.

Nationwide, about 2,030 square miles (5,258 square kilometers) have burned so far this year — the most at this point since 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

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Associated Press writers Colleen Slevin in Denver and Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.

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