AP

Crews in New Mexico, Arizona scramble to corral wildfires

May 8, 2022, 9:23 AM | Updated: May 9, 2022, 6:12 pm

Kenneth Bachicha poses in his empty classroom as his students work remotely from home on video writ...

Kenneth Bachicha poses in his empty classroom as his students work remotely from home on video writing about video games in Las Vegas, New Mexico, Monday, May 9, 2022. In Las Vegas, school officials in the district closest to the fire announced Monday afternoon that in-person school would resume Tuesday, with exceptions for children displaced by the flames or health conditions that make them vulnerable to smoke. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

(AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)


              Kenneth Bachicha poses in his empty classroom as his students work remotely from home on video writing about video games in Las Vegas, New Mexico, Monday, May 9, 2022. In Las Vegas, school officials in the district closest to the fire announced Monday afternoon that in-person school would resume Tuesday, with exceptions for children displaced by the flames or health conditions that make them vulnerable to smoke. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
            
              Kenneth Bachicha teaches from his empty classroom as his students work remotely from home on video writing about video games in Las Vegas, New Mexico, Monday, May 9, 2022. In Las Vegas, school officials in the district closest to the fire announced Monday afternoon that in-person school would resume Tuesday, with exceptions for children displaced by the flames or health conditions that make them vulnerable to smoke. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
            
              Reddened by wildfire smoke, the sun is seen reflected off windows at the train station in Las Vegas, N.M., on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Area residents have been on and off of evacuation orders of the past month as fires grow and move with intense and unpredictable winds. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
            
              A sunset is seen through plumes of wildfire smoke in Las Vegas, N.M., on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Area residents have been on and off of evacuation orders of the past month as fires grow and move with intense and unpredictable winds. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
            
              Reddened by wildfire smoke, the sun is seen reflected off windows at the train station in Las Vegas, N.M., on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Area residents have been on and off of evacuation orders of the past month as fires grow and move with intense and unpredictable winds. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
            
              A sunset is seen through plumes of wildfire smoke in Las Vegas, N.M., on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Area residents have been on and off of evacuation orders of the past month as fires grow and move with intense and unpredictable winds. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
            
              Reddened by wildfire smoke, the sun is seen reflected off windows at the train station in Las Vegas, N.M., on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Area residents have been on and off of evacuation orders of the past month as fires grow and move with intense and unpredictable winds. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
            
              A sunset is seen through plumes of wildfire smoke in Las Vegas, N.M., on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Area residents have been on and off of evacuation orders of the past month as fires grow and move with intense and unpredictable winds. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
            
              Reddened by wildfire smoke, the sun is seen reflected off windows at the train station in Las Vegas, N.M., on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Area residents have been on and off of evacuation orders of the past month as fires grow and move with intense and unpredictable winds. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
            
              A sunset is seen through plumes of wildfire smoke in Las Vegas, N.M., on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Area residents have been on and off of evacuation orders of the past month as fires grow and move with intense and unpredictable winds. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
            
              The Calf Canyon/Hermit Peak Fire burns south of Las Vegas, N.M., on Saturday, May 7, 2022. (Robert Browman/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)
            
              The Calf Canyon/Hermit Peak Fire burns south of Las Vegas, N.M., on Saturday, May 7, 2022. (Robert Browman/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)
            
              Smoke from the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire drifts over Las Vegas, N.M., on Saturday, May 7, 2022. (Robert Browman/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)
            
              Johnny Trujillo, 53, talks about battling the blaze that destroyed both his sister's home and his truck in the evacuation area near Mora, N.M., on Wednesday, May 4, 2022, where firefighters have been battling the Hermit's Peak and Calf Canyon fire for weeks. Many residents have resisted the evacuation orders opting to stay and protect their homes to face nature's fury. Weather conditions described as potentially historic are on tap for New Mexico on Saturday, May 7 and over the next several days as the largest fire burning in the U.S. chews through more tinder-dry mountainsides. (Jim Weber/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)
            
              Blackened tombstones and statues stand at the Rociada Cemetery after fire tore through the area in the evacuation area near Mora, N.M., on Wednesday, May 4, 2022, where firefighters have been battling the Hermit's Peak and Calf Canyon fire for weeks. Many residents have resisted the evacuation orders opting to stay and protect their homes to face nature's fury. Weather conditions described as potentially historic are on tap for New Mexico on Saturday, May 7 and over the next several days as the largest fire burning in the U.S. chews through more tinder-dry mountainsides. (Jim Weber/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)
            
              Twisted metal roofing and ashes remain of the Pendaries Village & Golf Resort restaurant and clubhouse in the evacuation area near Mora, N.M., on Wednesday, May 4, 2022, where firefighters have been battling the Hermit's Peak and Calf Canyon fire for weeks. Weather conditions described as potentially historic are on tap for New Mexico on Saturday, May 7, and over the next several days as the largest fire burning in the U.S. chews through more tinder-dry mountainsides. (Jim Weber/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)
            
              Wildland firefighters from several agencies throughout the country wait along state road 283 to be sent into the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fires burning just west of Las Vegas, N.M. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

LAS VEGAS, N.M. (AP) — Firefighters in northern New Mexico worked Monday in rugged terrain ahead of a massive wildfire, feverishly trying to position crews to clear brush and stop the monster blaze from burning more homes in the Rocky Mountain foothills.

The wildfire has charred 308 square miles (798 square kilometers) of tinder-dry ponderosa forests, making it the largest blaze burning in the U.S. during what has been an early start to the fire season. Thousands of people have been evacuated.

Much of the Southwest has been in the grips of drought for decades and warmer temperatures have combined with spring winds to make for dangerous fire conditions.

Crews in Arizona were dealing with strong winds Monday as they battled a fire near the U.S.-Mexico border that forced several dozen people from their homes.

And another wildfire in northern New Mexico near the federal government’s key facilities for nuclear research prompted Los Alamos National Laboratory and others in the area to begin preparing for evacuations, though officials stressed there was no immediate threat to the lab.

The fire has burned nearly 64 square miles (165 square kilometers).

Officials said some medically fragile residents and large animals already have been moved out of the area to lessen the traffic congestion should evacuations be ordered. They anticipated residents would have at least a day or two notice before being required to leave.

“If the fire gets its fifth gear, it will be here sooner than we want it to be,” said incident commander Rich Harvey. “We’re doing everything we can to check it.”

Strong, gusty winds continued to blow across the region after fanning the fires for weeks and often grounding essential aircraft used to drop water or fire retardant ahead of the flames, complicating efforts to contain them. Wind will continue to be a factor this week, along with low humidity, but to varying degrees depending on the day.

Fire officials predicted part of the main New Mexico fire would push north into rugged terrain that is difficult for firefighters to access.

“This isn’t a surprise to us. All the models showed this probably was going to happen,” said fire operations section chief Todd Abel, adding that crews have spent days working to protect ranch homes scattered thorough the area.

Nearly 1,700 firefighters were battling the blaze burning northeast of Santa Fe that was almost 50% contained. It has destroyed nearly 300 structures, including homes, commercial buildings and barns.

The region’s largest population center — Las Vegas, New Mexico, home to 13,000 people — remained largely safe from the flames after some area residents were allowed to return over the weekend. Schools were expected to return to in-person classes on Tuesday.

___

Montoya Bryan reported from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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