‘Huge firefight’ to defend New Mexico villages and city from fire

TAOS, New Mexico: Thousands of residents of villages in northern New Mexico were evacuated Sunday, May 1 as high winds pushed the largest active US wildfire to their drought-scorched mountain valley.

Winds of more than 64 km/h blew embers a mile before the blaze to spark new fires as bulldozers dug fire breaks to protect the villages of Ledoux, Mora and Cleveland about 64 km away northeast of Santa Fe.

They are part of farming communities and a town in the Wild West in the path of the Calf Canyon Fire, the most destructive of a dozen southwestern fires that scientists say are more widespread and coming earlier this year due to climate change.

“Where are we supposed to run, where are we going, that’s where our livelihood is,” said Darlene Gallegos, a farmer and co-owner of the Mora country market, after police told her to shut down the store and flee the village of 1,000 settled during the Spanish colonial era.

Twenty miles to the south, at the other end of the 42,100-hectare megafire, some residents of Las Vegas, New Mexico, were told to prepare to evacuate as winds pushed the blaze to less than 8 km from homes near Interstate 25.

These communities west of the city may be evacuated “in the near future,” Shawn Carrell, New Mexico’s game and fisheries manager, said during a briefing.

Crews razed firebreaks north and west of the historic college town of 14,000 to protect ranches, rural homes and the United World College.

Firefighters were hampered by strong, erratic winds that are expected to continue to change direction through Thursday.

“Things like this keep swirling around us,” Operations Commander Dave Bales said. “There’s always a huge firefight up there,” he said of the crews working through the night near Mora.

Burning since April 6, the blaze has destroyed hundreds of properties and forced the evacuation of dozens of settlements in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, but has yet to claim any casualties.

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