SANTA FE, NM (AP) — The governor of New Mexico is requesting additional federal assistance to respond to wildfires burning in the north of the state, including one that is the second largest in the state’s history and that authorities estimate that has destroyed hundreds of homes.
Gov. 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 debris removal and “a full range of emergency protective measures,” exceeds state capabilities and the federal government must bear 100% of the costs because part of the fire was arson by windblown embers from a prescribed burn in the Santa Fe National Forest, the governor said.
That fire has since merged with another fire and has grown to 437 square miles (1,133 square kilometers). The 5-week combined fire once threatened the small New Mexico town of Las Vegas before being stopped on the outskirts of town last week. Fire crews continue to work to keep the fire out of multiple rural communities.
Officials said on Saturday that weather conditions still included high temperatures and low humidity that weren’t helping, but less smoke had allowed firefighting planes to take off for a second day in a row to battle the flames.
Wildfires have broken out this spring in several western US states, including California, Colorado and Arizona. Predictions for the rest of spring do not bode well for the West, as drought and warmer weather brought on by climate change worsen 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 since 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
In Colorado, a fire burning southwest of Colorado Springs grew to 1.5 square miles (3.8 square kilometers) overnight and is 10% contained, Teller County Sheriff’s Office officials said Saturday. in the morning.
The fire, now known as the High Park Fire, broke out Thursday near the former mining town of Cripple Creek. The cause of the fire remains unknown.
By Thursday night, at least 120 people from 40 residences had evacuated the area, the Teller County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook.
Authorities say the fire could continue to grow as wind gusts are expected to reach 35 mph (56 kph). Winds are expected to die down around 2 p.m., which could aid firefighting efforts.
In New Mexico, the largest wildfire has a perimeter of 500 miles (805 kilometers), longer than the distance between San Francisco and San Diego, and is only 27% contained. Another fire to the west near Los Alamos has burned 71 square miles (184 square kilometers) and was 23% contained.
About 3,000 firefighters and other personnel are battling the two fires.
Firefighters said the largest blaze has 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 stressed that authorities have been unable to safely enter many burned areas to assess the damage.
In another development, Republican leaders in the New Mexico House of Representatives called Friday for the state to join a federal investigation into the handling of the prescribed burn that started the worst fire.
“We sincerely believe that the people of northern New Mexico deserve an impartial and detailed investigation conducted by parties other than those employed by the federal government,” the Republican lawmakers said in a letter to Democrat Lujan Grisham.
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