High winds, dry air to challenge firefighters through Monday

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On Saturday, firefighters from multiple agencies congregate along NM 283 near the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire west of Las Vegas. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)
Plumes of smoke rise into the air west of Las Vegas on Saturday. The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire now spans over 170,000 acres. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

As expected, high winds intensified in northern New Mexico late Saturday morning, creating difficult conditions for those battling the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire.

Although the firefighting planes were able to fly early in the day, Todd Abel, the operations section chief, said they had to be grounded around 11 a.m. due to turbulence and lack of visibility due to smoke.

He said crews were working all along the perimeter to protect homes, barns and other structures.

As of Saturday, the fire in San Miguel and Mora counties near Las Vegas, New Mexico, has been burning for 32 days. It has reached over 172,000 acres and is 21% contained. It stood at around 168,000 acres on Friday.

It is the second largest wildfire in state history and the largest currently burning in the United States. More than 1,400 people are working to fight the fire.

The wind is expected to get stronger and the air drier over the next few days.

“We are there now,” Incident Commander Dave Bales said during the evening briefing. “You can feel the winds… We’re in this red flag period here for an extended period until Monday night.”

Describing the scenario as ‘challenging’ and ‘complex’, incident meteorologist Bladen Breitreiter said a ‘broad and robust upper-level system’ is taking hold and bringing high winds – near 50-55 mph on Sunday – higher temperatures and low humidity.

A red flag warning went into effect around 11 a.m. Saturday and will continue until 9 p.m. Monday. A high wind warning will come into effect around 2 a.m. Sunday and will continue until 6 a.m. Monday.

“In summary, expect windy to very windy conditions tonight through Monday, along with persistent dry conditions and warm, above-normal temperatures.” Breitreiter said Saturday.

However, officials pointed out that there were some successes.

No further evacuations were ordered and residents of Cinder Road and Camp Luna were allowed to return to their homes after those areas were downgraded from GO status – “compulsory full evacuation” – to SET – “prepare for emergency”. ‘evacuation’.

“We want to remind all residents of San Miguel and Mora counties, as evacuation levels change and your (residence) becomes considered an evacuation zone, we encourage you to take immediate action,” County officials wrote in a news release. “This is a long-term event, and we don’t expect to have this fire ‘under control’ any time soon.”

Cerro Pelado fire grows

The winds also created difficult conditions for the Cerro Pelado fire near Los Alamos.

A red flag warning was issued Saturday due to winds of up to 35 mph and single-digit humidity, according to a news release from the Santa Fe National Forest.

The fire spread to more than 2,500 acres from Friday to Saturday and now stood at 34,671 acres with 11% contained.

Los Alamos County officials said the fire was less than 5 miles from the national lab and 10 miles from town.

The lab and the county have been placed under Level 3 fire restrictions, which means, among other things, trails maintained by the Department of Energy and county trails are closed to all recreational use, fires camping and charcoal grilling are prohibited.

To the south, the Bear Trap Fire in the Magdalena ranger district is at 4,400 acres and 0% content. The fire poses no threat to any community and no homes have been evacuated.

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