LAS VEGAS, New Mexico (AP) – Martina Gonzalez and her grandson watched from their backyard as planes disappeared into a giant club of smoke to fight a growing forest fire that burned hundreds of square miles, destroyed about 170 homes and threatened more destruction in case of wind. whip, as predicted, through the foothills of the Rockies.
“My grandson was actually, um, a little scared, nervous,” Gonzalez of Las Vegas said when the governor of New Mexico asked President Joe Biden to declare a disaster so federal aid could come to the biggest fire in the United States.
The fire rose overnight to 250 square miles (647 square kilometers), and containment was delayed by 20% of its perimeter. Strong winds are expected to bring a fire Wednesday toward Las Vegas with a population of about 13,000. In one area the fire was about a kilometer away.
Las Vegas Mayor Louis Trujillo said heavy smoke and noise from planes battling the fire were sometimes terrifying, but sought to reassure residents that the crews were working tirelessly.
“If this fire crosses the ridge, we will be able to protect our city, so let the citizens know that we are not just sitting idly by waiting for something to happen,” Trujillo said late Tuesday.
Gonzalez’s 4-year-old grandson Lucas shouted “plane” every time one flew overhead trying to save Las Vegas, the commercial center of agriculture and livestock.
Her car was packed with valuables in case an evacuation order came, but she wasn’t sure where they would go. The nursing home, where she works as a pharmacist, began relocating elderly clients on Monday. Nearly 200 patients from a state psychiatric hospital in Las Vegas were also evacuated Monday.
On Tuesday, as the fire burned through dry mountain slopes on Tuesday, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Luhan Grisham signed a request for a presidential declaration on natural disasters and said she hoped it would bring financial aid for recovery. She called it important to seek a declaration now, rather than wait for the fire to be put out.
Lujan Grisham, a first-term Democrat running for re-election, said about 15,500 homes were being evacuated and that the number of homes destroyed was likely to be much higher if it was safe enough for officials to assess the damage.
“I have families who don’t know what the next day will look like,” Lujan Grisham said. “I have families who are trying to focus on their children and health resources, figure out their livelihoods, and they’re in every little community, and they need to feel like they’re on their own.”
San Miguel County Sheriff Chris Lopez has sent calls from people who are concerned about safety if a fire breaks out on a ridge west of Las Vegas. Schools in the community have canceled classes at least until Wednesday.
“I can tell you that from my training and experience, the city is very protected,” Lopez said. “As you go further into the city, it becomes much more protected. And you know, we are doing everything possible to prepare for it. “
On Tuesday, bulldozers scraped fire lines on the outskirts, firefighters carried out burns to clear vegetation, and planes and helicopters dropped fire retardants as a second line of defense, preparing for strong winds expected over the weekend. Meanwhile, fire engines and crews remained on the outskirts of the city on Wednesday.
New Mexico was swept by waves of hot, dry and windy weather. The last prediction was in my head again.
Fires have become a year-round threat drought-stricken West – moving faster and hotter than ever because of climate change, say scientists and fire experts. Firefighters also point to overgrown and unhealthy forest areas where built-up vegetation can worsen forest fire conditions.
This was announced on Wednesday by the National Interdepartmental Fire Center a dozen uncontrollable great fires burned about 436 square miles (1,129 square miles) in five states, including New Mexico. More than 3,500 firefighters and support staff are dedicated to fighting fires across the country.
On the northern flank of a major fire in New Mexico, crews tried to prevent fires from the cities of Cleveland and the Sea, said Todd Abel, chief of fire operations.
The fire merged last week with another fire that broke out in early April when a prescribed fire set by land managers escaped containment. The cause of another fire is being investigated.
Another forest fire in New Mexico, which burned in forests near the Los Alamos National Laboratory, burned more than 42 square miles (109 square kilometers), destroying at least three homes and forcing an evacuation.
Associated Press writers Paul Davenport of Phoenix and Ken Ritter of Las Vegas, Nevada, contributed to the report.