© Reuters. PHOTOGRAPHY: A helicopter drops a retardant over vegetation as smoke rises, near the Griffith Observatory, in Los Angeles, California, USA, on May 17, 2022 in this image obtained from social networks. Luke Layden / via Reuters
By Andrew Hay
PLACITA, NM (Reuters) – Gathering dead grass and bulldozing a 20-mile fuel break, locals and firefighters in New Mexico fought on Wednesday to stop a devastating march north of the largest active forest fire in the United States.
Under the flames that set fire to up to 1,500 properties, Christine Gonzalez piled up weeds in her wheelchair to stop “on-site fires” if embers fall around her mountain home in Placita, about 40 miles northeast of Santa Fe.
“Climate change is very real here,” said Gonzalez, 61, a retired budget manager from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (NYSE :), as the smoke rose thousands of feet above the nearby peak of Jicarita.
In the forests eight miles north, teams worked to remove a 300-foot-wide fire along the reef system by Saturday to protect Taos and Angel Fire in case other firefighting actions fail. The fire was about 25 miles from two resorts.
“We have to predict a bad outcome, we have to predict that the rise in fires will mimic some of what we’ve seen in the last few weeks,” Chief of Operations Jayson Coil said at a briefing.
Driven by relentless winds, the fire in Hermits Peak Calf Canyon burned over 301,971 acres (122,203 acres), an area approaching the size of Los Angeles.
Lower snow cover and higher temperatures have trapped northern New Mexico in a 25-year drought, creating the conditions for the biggest fire in its recorded history, which shows no signs of stopping.
Perhaps the hardest hit is Mora County where Sub-Sheriff Americk Padilla calls the fire a “beast” after destroying the trailers of low-income families ’trailers, as well as ancestral forests and watersheds.
In immediate danger Wednesday was the Sipapu ski area 15 miles south of Taos where employees wrapped silver foil around structures to protect them from fire and used snow-making equipment to wet the forest.
Seven miles west of Rodarte, the Cordova family used diggers to make a fire around their family home.
“We will say as long as we can fight it,” Diane Cordova said, apologizing for not having time to talk.