A monster fire that has been raging in northern New Mexico for more than a month has blacked out enough land to earn a spot in the state record books.
Along with being the largest wildfire currently burning in the United States, the fire moving across the Sangre de Cristo mountain range is now the largest in the arid state’s recorded history. It covers over 465 square miles, an area nearly a quarter the size of Delaware.
More than 260 homes burned and more evacuations were prompted over the weekend as the blaze moved through dry – and in some cases dead – stands of pine and fir trees. Huge columns of smoke could be seen miles away, and fire officials and weather forecasters continue to call it an unprecedented situation.
“We’re trying to think of a bigger box, a bigger picture,” Nickie Johnny, a California incident commander who helps with the fire, said of efforts to find locations at miles of flames where crews can cut lines of fire and mount a defense. .
Fires were also burning elsewhere in New Mexico and Colorado as much of the West marked an unusually hot, dry and windy spring. Forecasts for the rest of the season do not bode well, with drought and warmer weather brought on by climate change increasing the danger of wildfires.
Colorado Springs enacted a fire ban after a series of blazes spread rapidly due to hot, dry conditions, including a fatal one caused by smoking. Under a ban taking effect Monday, smoking and grilling will be banned in parks in Colorado’s second-largest city and people who grill at home will be allowed to use only gas or liquid fuel, no charcoal or wood.
Burning bans and fire restrictions have also been put in place in cities and counties across New Mexico in recent weeks, with officials warning that any new fire starts will further strain firefighting resources. .
More than 2,000 firefighters were battling the 5-week-old blaze that threatened the small town of Las Vegas in New Mexico for some time before being stopped just outside of town last week. Yet many other small villages remained under threat as of Monday, including the resort communities of Black Lake and Angel Fire.
Nationwide, about 2,030 square miles have burned so far this year — the most so far since 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Associated Press writer Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.