Better weather conditions help crews work New Mexico fires

Improved weather on Saturday helped firefighters battle several large wildfires in New Mexico, including the nation’s largest active blaze.

A cold front that blew through on Friday lowered temperatures, raised humidity levels and provided cloud cover over the largest fire, which is burning in northern New Mexico, said fire behavior analyst Dennis Burns. . Cloud cover “shades combustibles so the fire has to work harder and has a hard time burning that material.”

“It actually gave us decent conditions to fight this fire today and probably for the next few days,” Burns said.

More than 2,700 firefighters and other personnel have been assigned to the 6-week-old blaze, which as of Saturday was contained to around 40% of its perimeter. The blaze is among five major active fires in the state and among 16 nationally, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

At 482 square miles (1,250 square kilometers), New Mexico’s largest fire is so large that it has been divided into three separately managed areas by three of the nation’s 17 largest Type I response teams.

Previously, high winds had caused the blaze to spread tens of thousands of acres in a single day, but Incident Commander Carl Schwope said Friday evening that moderating weather “is going to give us a good five days here that we can really make a lot of progress.”

Winds challenged firefighters battling the blaze on Friday, sending embers that ignited localized fires outside containment lines, but crews aided by aircraft were able to stop the fire from growing outside its perimeter in most areas.

Some of the crews directly fighting the blaze were working among logs on steep slopes, said operations section chief Jayson Coil.

“And that’s going to take time,” Coil said. “”Work is slow. It’s tedious. It is difficult. But they are progressing. »

Meanwhile, other crews deployed water hoses and pumps to protect structures and bulldozer and vegetation chewer operators continued to clear containment lines along and in front of the fire.” . Secondary containment lines farther from the fire were also unobstructed in case flames passed through the primary lines.

Some of the branch lines were being cleared in areas where owners said previous fires had been put out, Burns said. “I hope they will never be used.”

Some of the crews directly fighting the blaze were working logs on steep slopes, said operations section chief Jayson Coil.

“And that’s going to take time,” Coil said. “”Work is slow. It’s tedious. It is difficult. But they are progressing. »

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Davenport reported from Flagstaff, Arizona. AP reporter Scott Sonner contributed from Reno, Nevada.

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