The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire rampaging through Northern New Mexico crossed a record-keeping boundary this morning as its measured acreage now makes it the largest fire in the state’s history.
Infrared flights overnight mapped the fire at 297,943 acres, Southwest Incident Management Team 1 Operations Section Chief Jayson Coil reported in a morning update. Minutes later, the Forest Service updated its map on the federal InciWeb to 298,060 acres. The Whitewater/Baldy Complex fire in 2012 burned 297,845 acres near Silver City.
The fire that began April 6 as a prescribed burn near Las Vegas will continue to grow over the coming weeks, as it is largely burning in dense timber. Three incident management teams have now divided the firefighting command into a north, central and south zone. While the fastest movement has swept toward the north, the fire’s southwest flank ran over the weekend and sent the communities near Pecos into “set” evacuation status. On Sunday night, Taos County added evacuation levels as well, including “go” or mandatory evacuation status for Angostura, Rock Wall, Las Mochas and Sipapu. For real-time evacuation maps, use this link.
Containment, defined as the percentage of the fire perimeter in which fire is not expected to cross even in extreme conditions, is estimated at 27%, with Coil noting “percent containment does not equal to percent effort. There is 100 % effort on this fire right now; those containment figures are not representative of that effort until each mile is completed.”
Monday’s weather forecast was the first to feature rain in weeks, however, it’s not necessarily good news for firefighters because the events are what the National Weather Service calls “thunderstorms producing little to no rainfall.”
Coil explained the plan for the day in the central zone includes identifying a fire line on the north edge to continue structure protection efforts—particularly between Chacon and Mora—and looking for ways to tie in an old fire line from the Luna and Cook’s Peak fires.
“We are going to be doing all this in a manner that is considerate of the weather that we have anticipated for today,” he said. “They upgraded us to a severe thunderstorm warning, which unfortunately does not mean much for putting the fire out, but what it does mean…is thunderstorms that are capable of producing hail [that] negatively impact our aircraft…and the winds that are associated with those can push the fire multiple different directions.
“Today is going to a complex day,” Coil said. “There are going to be a lot of complex days ahead.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has set up a disaster recovery center in Las Vegas at Old Memorial High School. FEMA says the fastest and easiest way to apply is by visiting disasterassistance.gov/. If it is not possible to visit the DRC or to apply online, call 800-621-3362.
As the fire grows, both Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state’s congressional delegation are urging the federal government to up its financial fire assistance for New Mexico. The governor wrote President Joe Biden on Friday requesting the feds cover 100% of disaster costs: “New Mexico is utilizing every available asset to combat the advancing fires,” the letter reads. “However, the ever-increasing costs to save lives and protect New Mexicans’ homes, property, and heritage as these fires continue exceeds the capability of the state. New Mexico’s response to these devastating fires warrants the full resources and support of the federal government.”
The congressional delegation, on Saturday, wrote Biden, asking him to approve Lujan Grisham’s request: “Given the severity and life and death nature of this crisis, we urge you to act without delay,” the letter says. “It is imperative that the federal government provides full support to New Mexican communities to protect and recover from the ongoing wildfire devastation.”
Senior Correspondent Julia Goldberg contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong date for the fire start.