New Mexico wildfires exceed 200,000 acres as the weather worsens

New Mexico wildfires exceed 200,000 acres as the weather worsens

On Tuesday, a massive wildfire in New Mexico exceeded 200,000 acres of scorched bush as high winds and warm temperatures revived growth and maintained further containment, officials said.

The Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire, the second-largest fire in state history after the 2012 Whitewater Baldy Fire, released ominous plumes of smoke Tuesday afternoon as it raged with renewable energy in the mountains east of Santa Fe.

On the 35th day of the fire, the forecast for federal fire officials was bleak—the estimates did not provide a brief respite from the high winds. Storms reached 48 mph on Tuesday, and high temperatures were forecast for the weekend.

"It is too windy to fly our helicopters and [our] fixed-wing [airplanes]," Todd Abell, chief of Federal Fire Incident Operations for the Southwest, said in a video update Tuesday night.

As a result, fire containment remained steady at 39 percent, as acreage growth negated any wins on fire streaks, Abel said.

During the update, federal meteorologist Makoto Moore said that the red flag warning was explicit. "The weather lives up to the label," he said.

Stormy winds are expected until Wednesday, after which calmer air will meet high temperatures expected to reach the upper 90s by Saturday.

Officials have issued warnings for parts of Taos, Colfax, and San Miguel counties to remain on high alert and prepare for possible evacuation as massive wildfires move north parallel to the southern terminus of the Rocky Mountains, known in the state as the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

The fires, once separate fires, merged on April 22, which, by early May, had burned nearly a quarter of a million acres, twice what would usually have burned the entire state. 

The Hermits Peak Fire started as a described burn that escaped its border on April 6. Still, no one knows the reason for the Calf Canyon fire. Federal officials on Tuesday marked the 35th day of both fires by using April 6 as the start date.

On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators and congressional representatives wrote a letter to the Biden administration demanding a promised wage raise and increased benefits for federal firefighters.

"With the start of the 2022 fire season, we urge you to take the necessary steps to avoid an acute shortage of personnel in the Al Barari firefighting workforce," she added.

The letter described the staff shortage as an "urgent threat to natural resources, public safety, and taxpayer money."

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