Wildfires sweep New Mexico, hundreds of properties destroyed


Taos (Reuters) – Wind-driven wildfires destroyed hundreds of structures in northern New Mexico and forced thousands to flee mountain villages as blazes burned unusually early in the year in the parched U.S. Southwest.

Two wildfires merged northwest of Las Vegas, New Mexico, and raced through 15 miles of forest driven by winds over 75 mph (121 kph), destroying more than 200 buildings, state authorities said.

To the northeast, a fire about 35 miles west of Taos doubled in size to become the largest burning in the United States, forcing the evacuation of a scout ranch and threatening several villages.

The wildfires are the most severe of nearly two dozen in the U.S. Southwest and raised concerns the region was in for a brutal fire year as a decades-long drought combined with abundant dry vegetation.

“We have a longer, more dangerous and more dramatic fire season ahead of us,” New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham told reporters, adding that the state had 20 active fires following Friday’s “unprecedented” wind storm.

The Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak fires near Las Vegas combined to burn 42,341 acres, an area larger than Florida’s Disney World. Evacuations expanded to half a dozen more communities including the village of Mora, the governor said.

Climate change has lowered winter snowpacks and allowed larger and more extreme fires to start earlier in the year, according to scientists.

West of Taos, the Cooks Peak fire nearly doubled in size to 48,672 acres, forcing the evacuation of the Philmont Scout Ranch and threatening the village of Cimarron.

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