'Very dangerous fire weather' as New Mexico braces for more wildfire conditions

'Very dangerous fire weather' as New Mexico braces for more wildfire conditions

Wildfires continued to burn across New Mexico on Wednesday as dry and windy conditions fuel what officials fear could be some of the most destructive fires in the state's recorded history.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said on Twitter she was on her way to the Cerro Pelado Fire, which has burned about 27,000 acres of Santa Fe National Forest north of Albuquerque and is 13 percent contained.

In a statement midday, Lujan Grisham said she had sent a federal disaster declaration request to President Joe Biden to expedite a process that usually begins after a disaster.

“I am laser focused on getting New Mexicans the disaster relief they need and deserve, and I am confident that FEMA and the President will grant our request," Grisham said.

She said those with wildfire damage claims "are strongly urged to wait to submit" until the disaster declaration is approved "in order to ensure they are properly classified under an approved disaster declaration."

The Hermits Peak Fire, which is almost a month old and was 10 percent contained in mid-April, has since merged with Calf Canyon Fire.

Together, the new, larger fire is just 20 percent contained, and it has burned over 160,000 acres.

Only one fire in New Mexico history has burned more acres: the 2012 Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire, which burned 300,000 acres.

The Hermits Creek and Calf Canyon Fires have together already burned more land than the second-largest wildfire in the state's history, the Las Conchas Fire of 2011, which burned over 150,000 acres.

A morning interagency fire update on the Hermits Creek and Calf Canyon Fire said firefighters and weather forecasters expected conditions to worsen across the state with an "anticipated increase in fire activity in multiple locations across the fire as winds shift throughout the day."

The National Weather Service office in Albuquerque warned in a tweet Wednesday that a "widespread, very dangerous fire weather pattern peaks again this weekend & early next week"

"A slow-moving, strong system will be responsible for very strong winds with dry conditions not going anywhere. Ongoing fires and new starts will be able to spread rapidly," NWS Albuquerque wrote.

In Las Vegas, a town of 13,000 in northeast New Mexico, residents hurried Monday to flee ahead of fast-moving flames from the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire.

NBC affiliate KOB of Albuquerque reported from Las Vegas that town officials are worried that the blaze could threaten the water supply.

Smoke from the combined fires, driven by strong wind gusts of up to 40 mph, are choking communities like Las Vegas to the east and south sides of the fire, the morning update said.

"The Las Vegas Valley will see Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (USG) today becoming Unhealthy into tonight. Mora will average USG with periods of Unhealthy late afternoon into tonight with winds pushing smoke eastward," they said.

In western New Mexico, the Bear Trap Fire, which has burned 2,300 acres, was zero percent contained.