SANTA FE, New Mexico –
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed emergency declarations as 20 wildfires continued to burn Sunday in nearly half of the 33 drought-stricken counties.
A wildfire in northern New Mexico that started April 6 merged with a more recent blaze on Saturday to form the second-largest blaze in the state at more than 171 square miles, prompting widespread evacuations in counties of Mora and San Miguel.
Another wind-driven wildfire in northern New Mexico that began April 17 has charred at least 197 square kilometers of ponderosa pine, oak brush and grass north of Ocate, an uninhabited community. incorporated as Mora County.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, some residents forced to evacuate due to a wildfire near Flagstaff were allowed to return home on Sunday morning.
Winds and temperatures in New Mexico eased on Saturday but remained strong enough to fan the fires. Dozens of evacuation orders remained in place.
Fire officials expected wildfires in the north to slow on Sunday as cloud cover and smoke shifted, allowing forests to retain more moisture. But they added that interior parts of the fires could show moderate to extreme behavior, which could threaten structures in those areas.
More than 200 structures have so far been charred by the wildfires and another 900 remain at risk, Lujan Grisham said.
Fire management officials said the exact damage toll was unclear as it is still too dangerous for crews to enter and look at all the homes that have been lost.
“We don’t know the extent of the structural loss. We don’t even know the areas where most of the houses survived the fire, where the houses weren’t damaged or anything like that” , said the chief of the operations sections, Jayson Coil.
Some 1,000 firefighters were battling wildfires across New Mexico, which has already secured about US$3 million in grants to help fight the blazes.
Lujan Grisham said she asked the White House for more federal resources and called for a statewide ban on fireworks.
“We need more federal agencies for firefighting, fire mitigation, public safety support on the ground in New Mexico,” she said. “It’s going to be a tough summer. This is why we prohibit fires. And that’s why on Monday, I’ll be asking every local government to think about ways to ban the sale of fireworks.
Wildfires have become a year-round threat in the West given changing conditions that include earlier snowmelt and later rains in the fall, scientists said. The problems have been exacerbated by decades of fire suppression and poor management, as well as a 20-plus-year mega-drought that studies have linked to human-induced climate change.
In Arizona, two large wildfires continued to burn Sunday 16 kilometers south of Prescott and 22 kilometers northeast of Flagstaff.
Coconino County officials lifted the evacuation order Sunday morning for residents living in neighborhoods along Highway 89 after fire management officials determined that the wildfire in the area of Flagstaff no longer posed a threat.
The fire near Flagstaff was 83 square miles on Saturday night. It has forced the evacuation of 766 homes and burned down 30 homes and two dozen other structures since it began a week ago, according to county officials.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey declared the fire a state of emergency Friday for Coconino County to release recovery assistance to affected communities.
The wildfire near Prescott started last Monday and was 12.4 square kilometers in size and 15% contained Sunday morning as helicopters and air tankers dropped water and retardant to slow the fire’s growth .
The cause of the wildfires in New Mexico and Arizona remains under investigation.