More people flee US's largest wildfire

Andrew Hay and Adria MalcolmReuters
Strong winds and drought conditions have fuelled the Hermits Peak Calf Canyon blaze since April 4.
Camera IconStrong winds and drought conditions have fuelled the Hermits Peak Calf Canyon blaze since April 4. Credit: AP

The United States’ largest active wildfire has advanced on New Mexico mountain villages, triggering evacuations in another county as firefighters saw no way to stop the blaze.

Driven by gusting winds, the fire has reached a highway that is the only way out of the village of Chacon, where some people have stayed to defend homes, Mora County Under Sheriff Americk Padilla says.

In nearby Angostura, ranchers and second-home owners were told to flee on Tuesday, marking the first evacuations in Taos County, which like the rest of the fire zone is caught in a more than two-decade-long drought.

The blaze has burned more than 820 square kilometres in a 70km swathe of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

“There’s no good place with the fire behaviour and the wind we’ve been having to stop it anywhere in here, so we’re going to have to protect all these homes as we go to the north,” Todd Abel, a battalion chief with the National Wildfire Co-ordinating Group, told a briefing.

The fire is destroying ancestral forests and watersheds used by Indo-Hispano villages for centuries for building materials, firewood and to irrigate high mountain pastures.

The so-called Hermits Peak Calf Canyon blaze is one of about a dozen in the southwest that started earlier this year as climate change dried out forests and caused stronger-than-usual spring winds, forest biologists say.

Hundreds of homes and other structures have been destroyed by the fire and about 12,000 households have been told to evacuate, with fears some centuries-old communities will never recover.

The blaze started on April 4 when a controlled burn by the US Forest Service got out of hand and then merged with another blaze to burn 82,530 hectares. The cause of the second fire remains under investigation.

The eastern flank of the fire has been contained, allowing villagers on Tuesday to return to communities such as Pendaries and Canoncito that were the first to lose homes.

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