A ferocious wildfire has been burning in the northeastern part of New Mexico for six weeks. The state’s governor estimates the number of burned homes and other structures range between 1,000 and 1,500. Starting tomorrow, the record-setting blaze will force national park closures across the state.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham stresses that estimates of fire damage are likely not exaggerations. She says many victims have lost homes and had their businesses affected.
“Their families are suffering,” the governor says. “That’s my takeaway, the number of families that we have to help.”
The New Mexico fire has charred more than 468 square miles over the last 42 days. That gives it the sad distinction of being the largest fire in the arid state’s recorded history. It’s also the largest fire currently burning in the nation.
God created fire for cooking, light, warmth, and trash burning. Fire serves in the Bible as a symbol for the process of purification. But runaway wildfires can cause massive damage. Likewise, human speech can be both helpful and hurtful. Humans can express love, communication information, and utter praise. But God calls a tongue out of control “a fire, a world of unrighteousness. . . . setting on fire the entire course of life.” (James 3:6)
Crews from around the country are working on multiple fronts of the fire’s massive perimeter. They hope to herd the flames to avoid homes by building more dozer lines (fire lines constructed using a bulldozer), clearing brush, raking pine needles, and setting up sprinkler systems.
A fraction of an inch of precipitation fell over parts of the fire Monday. But a meteorologist studying the blaze says the places that most needed rain didn’t receive the moisture.
As summer ramps up, New Mexico will likely experience higher fire danger due to strong winds, warmer temperatures, and forecasts for little to no precipitation. Lujan Grisham warns that many residents should be ready for possible evacuations in the coming months.
Officials with three of New Mexico’s five national forests announced that closures will take effect tomorrow. Those will prohibit public access to parks because of active wildfires and extreme fire danger. The closures will affect Santa Fe National Forest, Cibola National Forest, and Carson National Forest.
Another fire burning in the Gila National Forest in southern New Mexico grew more than 57 square miles in one day. State officials closed forest roads and trails in the area.
U.S. Forest Service officials say a special team will begin assessing the cooler areas of the wildfire to determine what needs to be done to protect against post-fire events like erosion and flooding.
Similar work is underway in southern New Mexico and in northern Arizona. Early-season wildfires there have consumed homes in forested communities.
Nationwide, more than 2,140 square miles have burned so far this year—the most at this point since 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Lujan Grisham recognizes the emotions of many people after losing homes and property that have been in families for generations. She emphasizes that the goal of state and federal officials is to save all lives and as many properties as possible.
She says, “We have lives to put back together.”
(Firefighter Ryan Le Baron with the Elk Creek fire department of Colorado watches the wildfire blaze across a ridgeline near the Taos County line. Jim Weber/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)