Massive New Mexico wildfire grows

Susan Montoya BryanAP
America's largest active wildfire had charred almost 960 sq km by Wednesday morning.
Camera IconAmerica's largest active wildfire had charred almost 960 sq km by Wednesday morning. Credit: AP

The largest wildfire in the US is spreading towards mountain resort towns in northern New Mexico, prompting officials to issue another set of warnings for more people to leave.

"Day 36," fire spokesman Bill Morse said at a briefing on Wednesday night. "Ever since April 6, this fire has grown day by day by day."

Meanwhile, a wildfire that erupted Wednesday afternoon in coastal southern California raced through coastal bluffs of multimillion-dollar mansions, burning at least 20 homes, fire officials said.

The flames were fanned by gusty ocean winds but they were dying down on Wednesday night. No injuries were reported but several streets were ordered evacuated.

The fire, which occurred in Laguna Niguel, was relatively small but the wind drove embers into dense, dry brush on slopes and canyons that had not burned for decades, Brian Fennessy, chief of the Orange County Fire Authority, said.

Climate change had turned even small fires that once would have been easily contained into extreme threats to life and property throughout the west, Fennessy said.

As night fell, New Mexico officials said the fastest-moving flames along the eastern front of the Sangre de Cristo range on the southern end of the Rockies were headed further northeast, away from the area's biggest population centre in Taos, a tourist enclave about 60 kilometres south of the Colorado line.

Some aircraft were able to fly to drop retardant on the blaze despite winds of more than 70km/h in some areas. Some evacuation orders were relaxed along the southern flank of the fire near Las Vegas, New Mexico.

On Wednesday, the most active part of the wind-fuelled fire northeast of Mora was tossing hot embers, giving the fire an even bigger foothold on the tinder-dry landscape.

After growing more than 130 square kilometres the day before, the fire had charred almost 960 sq km by Wednesday morning.

Evacuations were ordered for villages south of the resort town of Angel Fire east of Taos, where residents were told to also be packed and ready to go.

A federal disaster has been declared because of the blaze, which is partly the result of a preventive fire that escaped containment on April 6. That fire merged with another wildfire several weeks later.

Crews also were battling a smaller fire near Los Alamos National Laboratory, a key government facility for nuclear research.

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