As blazes blazed unusually early in the year in the parched United States Southwest, wind-driven wildfires damaged hundreds of houses and drove thousands of people to leave mountain settlements in northern New Mexico.
Two flames converged northwest of Las Vegas, New Mexico, and raced through 15 miles of woodland, destroying more than 200 structures, according to state officials. The fires were fueled by gusts of more than 75 mph (121 kph).
To the northeast, a fire 35 miles west of Taos doubled in size to become the country’s largest, prompting the evacuation of a scout ranch and posing a threat to numerous settlements.
The flames are the most catastrophic of over two dozen in the United States Southwest, raising fears that the region would face a particularly harsh fire season due to a decades-long drought and an abundance of dry vegetation.
“We’re in for a longer, more dangerous, and more dramatic fire season,” New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham told reporters, noting that the state has 20 active fires after Friday’s “historic” wind storm.
The Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak fires near Las Vegas burned 42,341 acres in total, an area larger than Disney World in Florida. The governor announced that evacuations had been expanded to a half-dozen more towns, including the village of Mora.
According to scientists, climate change has reduced winter snowpacks, allowing larger and more catastrophic fires to start earlier in the year.
The Cooks Peak fire, located west of Taos, nearly doubled in size to 48,672 acres, requiring the evacuation of the Philmont Scout Ranch and posing a threat to Cimarron.