© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: The Maverick Canyon Fire burns in the mountains south of Mora, New Mexico, U.S., April 25, 2022. REUTERS/Andrew Hay
MORA, N.M. (Reuters) – Firefighters in New Mexico failed to extinguish the flames of the largest U.S. wildfire that burned dangerously near a series of mountain villages on Friday.
Scientists say the blaze is the most destructive of dozens of blazes in the U.S. southwest due to climate change, which is more widespread and burning than normal during the year due to climate change.
Thousands of people prepared to evacuate in the Mora Valley, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northeast of Santa Fe, as thick smoke billowed from the forests surrounding the nearby Ledoux farming community.
High winds have blown more than a mile of embers and spread wildfires that have burned about 75,000 acres (30,351 hectares) or 117 square miles (303 square kilometers) of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and destroyed hundreds of homes since April 6 and buildings.
“It looked very scary outside,” incident commander Karl Schwopp said at a briefing. “With the speed of transmission, it is very difficult for us to control the firepower.”
Fire officials said strong winds were expected to blow from the south on Saturday, pushing the blaze into villages such as Mora and the city of Las Vegas, which is home to 14,000 people.
“It’s coming, it’s here,” said Mora County Sheriff’s official Amric Padilla, urging residents to evacuate to the towns of Taos and Angel Fire if requested.
Fire expert Stewart Turner said more than two decades of extreme drought had turned forested mountains and valleys into powder kegs.
“It was moving much faster than we expected,” Turner said of the blaze. “It was a very, very serious fire.”
Locals have slammed the U.S. Forest Service for deliberately conducting “controlled burns” designed to reduce the risk of fires that unintentionally start some of the blazes.
“The U.S. Forest Service needs to be held accountable,” said Skip Finley, a former Mora County Commissioner who loaded a truck out of his home.