America’s largest wildfire rages out of control in New Mexico By Reuters

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Calf Canyon fire burns in mountains south of Mora, New Mexico, USA April 25, 2022. REUTERS / Andrew Hay

By Andrew Hay

MORA, NM (Reuters) – New Mexico firefighters on Friday failed to put out the blaze from the United States’ largest wildfire, which is burning dangerously close to a number of mountain villages.

The fire is the most devastating of dozens in the southwestern United States, which is more prevalent and burns earlier than usual during the year due to climate change, scientists say.

Thousands of people in the Mora Valley, about 40 miles (64 km) northeast of Santa Fe, were preparing to evacuate as the smoke billowed from the forest around the nearby agricultural community of Ledoux.

Strong winds blew embers over a mile, spreading a forest fire that has sweated about 75,000 acres (30,351 acres) or 117 square miles (303 square kilometers) of the Sangre de Cristo mountains since April 6, destroying hundreds of houses and structures.

“It looks very scary out there,” event manager Carl Schwope told a briefing. “With the spread rate, it’s very difficult for us to get any fire control.”

The wind was expected to blow from the south on Saturday, pushing the fire against villages like Mora, as well as the city of Las Vegas, with a population of 14,000, fire officials said.

“It’s coming, and it’s here,” said Mora County Sheriff’s official Americk Padilla, urging residents to evacuate to the towns of Taos and Angel Fire if asked.

More than two decades of extreme drought have turned forested mountains and valleys into a tinderbox, said fire expert Stewart Turner.

“It’s moving a lot faster than we expected,” Turner said of the flame. “This is a very, very serious fire.”

Locals turned to the U.S. Forest Service for a deliberate, “controlled burning” to reduce the risk of fire, which inadvertently started part of the fire.

“The U.S. Forest Service must be held accountable,” said Skip Finley, a former Mora County commissioner, as he loaded his car to evacuate his home.

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