Rain and snow slow fires in New Mexico, but hot, dry weather looms

SANTA FE, New Mexico — North America’s largest wildfire slowed to a near standstill in northern New Mexico on Tuesday amid light rain and some snow in the mountains as nearly 3,000 firefighters rushed to anticipate a worsening fire forecast in the coming days.

Memorial Day weekend historically marks the start of the first wildfire season in many parts of the Southwest. But wildfires have already scorched an area larger than the state of Delaware this year in extremely dry conditions created by persistent drought and climate change.

In Arizona, a new fire briefly forced evacuations Tuesday near Flagstaff. Authorities investigating the cause said they were looking for a person of interest near where it started half a mile (0.8 kilometres) from Lowell Observatory.

New Mexico firefighters said they hope to continue clearing flammable vegetation and deploying planes to extinguish smoldering forests on Wednesday before windier, hotter and drier conditions return this weekend.

On Friday, “fire weather is starting to enter the critical phase where we’re likely to see more fire growth and movement,” Forest Service fire behavior analyst Stewart Turner said during a Tuesday evening briefing.

The blaze that started about seven weeks ago in the Rocky Mountain foothills east of Santa Fe was 41% surrounded by clearings and barriers that can prevent a fire from spreading further.

The blaze consumed more than 486 square miles (1,260 square kilometers) of woods, grassland and brush, with evacuations in place for weeks. Its perimeter extends 634 miles (1,020 kilometers), more than the distance between New York and Detroit.

It is one of six large active fires in the state that have burned over 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 about double the average burn for this time of year, according to a national wildfire suppression coordination center.

Jayson Coil, one of the operations managers in New Mexico, said what “will keep me awake at night” are the hidden hot spots where extremely dry roots and dead logs smoldering under the ground can ignite quickly.

“You can have one of these (logs) that’s stuck in a snowdrift, but the wood is going to keep the heat in there,” he said Tuesday night.

“Once one side burns, it will be like a cigar. It may take several days depending on what is around it, but the fire will crawl around, stay in there, and then it will come out the other side,” did he declare. mentioned.

A wildfire on the outskirts of Los Alamos National Laboratory was 85% contained on Tuesday. Nearby, the Bandelier National Monument is set to reopen some areas to visitors on Friday.

In southwestern New Mexico, a fire was burning in parts of the Gila National Forest and outlying areas.

Stricter restrictions on campfires and smoking will go into effect Wednesday or Thursday in Arizona’s six national forests due to the heightened threat of fire, Forest Service officials said Tuesday.

About Jefferey G. Cannon

Check Also

Hot, dry and windy weather to challenge fire crews in Arizona

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Fire crews battling two wildfires in northern Arizona expected some growth …