The mega-blaze which began April 6 as a prescribed burn near Las Vegas, NM, will continue to grow over the coming weeks, as it is largely burning in dense timber.
While the fastest recent movement for the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire has swept toward the north, the fire’s southwest flank also made a run over the weekend and sent the communities near Pecos into “set” evacuation status.
The fire rampaging through Northern New Mexico crossed a record-keeping boundary this week as its measured acreage now makes it the largest fire in state history. As of presstime, the US Forest Service mapped the fire at 299,565 acres and about 26% containment, with most of the secured line on the fire’s eastern edge. The Whitewater/Baldy Complex fire in 2012 burned 297,845 acres near Silver City.
Three incident management teams have now divided the firefighting command into north, central and south zones. As the blaze threatened to spill into the Pecos River Valley—and closer to Santa Fe—Ken Watkins, operations section chief for the south zone, said Tuesday in a morning update that he doesn’t anticipate that kind of spread in the next few days based on the on-the-ground evidence and experience of fire crews, but noted, “I’d like everyone to be prepared for that.”
Firefighters are working to establish a containment line on the western edge and have established “management action points” across the region to monitor the fire’s movement as it approaches the Pecos Valley, and to provide warning for evacuation-status changes.
While residents near Las Vegas and toward Mora have been allowed to return home, many of their homes are no longer standing. Each affected county is assessing structure loss, but according to the governor’s office, 364 structures have been officially confirmed as destroyed.
County sheriffs bear the brunt of notifying residents of evacuation and maintaining roadblocks to keep fire areas clear. 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 the most updated evacuation map visit this link.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency began work in the state after President Joe Biden issued a formal declaration of disaster. As of Tuesday evening, 446 households had been approved for over $612,000 in the five counties under the disaster declaration and more than 2,000 people had registered for assistance.
Santa Fe County planned a community meeting Wednesday night to help residents prepare for the worst. It’s at 5:30 pm at the Pojoaque Fire Station and also will stream on the county’s YouTube page.
Meanwhile, summer just lost a little more luster for the region as the Santa Fe National Forest, Carson National Forest, and parts of Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands closed to recreation effective May 19. The Bureau of Land Management revoked permits to boat on the Rio Chama for this month.
To the east of Santa Fe, the Cerro Pelado Fire that had swept smoke off the Jemez Mountains for weeks has died down. As of presstime, it was 71% contained and had burned 45,605 acres. Los Alamos National Laboratory and Los Alamos County have returned to the “ready” stage. However, fire officials note that historically dry conditions and higher winds expected later in the week are still cause for concern and ask residents to remain vigilant.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell and other officials reviewed the work underway Tuesday to help people impacted by the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire through federal assistance. Criswell said FEMA has 350 employees “on the ground” in the state to help with those efforts.
Both Lujan Grisham and Criswell emphasized the fire will require a long recovery. The governor also noted FEMA’s presence in the state puts New Mexico “in the best possible position where we’re all competing for resources during fire season in the United States to make sure that we’re also adequately supported to fight fires around the state through fire season.” Fire season, she added, doesn’t officially start until June 23.
Criswell encouraged all residents in the counties covered under the presidential declaration—Colfax, Lincoln, Mora, San Miguel and Valencia—to contact FEMA and begin applying for assistance, but also said the agency will have teams on the ground doing outreach.
“I want to make sure you know FEMA will be here with you through every step of that recovery process,” Criswell told the governor.
Fire victims should Call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 or visit disasterassistance.gov/.
Senior Correspondent Julia Goldberg, Staff Writer William Melhado and Editor Julie Ann Grimm contributed to this report.