New Mexico Battles its Second-largest Wildfire

New Mexico Battles its Second-largest Wildfire

Though wildfire season historically does not peak until the month of June, New Mexico is currently battling record-setting blazes. As of this morning, the merger of the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fires have resulted in the burning of over 189,000 acres with only 43% containment. The blaze is now more than a month old with 1,645 firefighters and personnel working to manage the state’s second-largest fire.

The true scale of the fires in New Mexico will not be realized until the burn zones are accessible, but experts currently estimate that about 170 homes have been destroyed. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued to about 15,500 households located in the valleys of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. President Biden has issued a disaster declaration for several counties in the northeastern and southern parts of the state. In Las Vegas, New Mexico, a city of 13,000 people, restaurants, grocery stores, and schools were closed last week.

The National Weather Service is calling the situation in New Mexico and toward the Colorado border “dangerous and dire” due to expanding and merging fires, along with conditions that are “ripe for any new ignitions to erupt,” the Washington Post reports.

KOAT: New Mexico Fire Update, May 8. 2022.

KRQE: Every super scooper aircraft in US fighting northern New Mexico fires, May 6, 2022.

Why This Matters

More than 1.2 million acres have already burned in the US this year. Experts emphasize that fire season will only get longer and more severe moving forward due to climate change -- and not just in New Mexico. Warming temperatures continue to intensify the megadrought that is currently sweeping across the Western US and make the area increasingly vulnerable to fires that are bigger and more devastating.

The consequences of this "new normal” are already becoming apparent. In Texas, for example, a more severe wildfire season has pushed the state’s firefighting resources to the limit. When the Eastland Complex broke out, the local fire departments were away, battling fires in other parts of the state and reinforcements did not arrive until the fire had already swept through the town of Carbon. Increasingly, current response systems aren’t capable of delivering to meet the scale of disasters.

A report by the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) released on May 1 shows that the country is in for a fiery summer across the Great Plains and the very, very dry American West and that California’s fire season is a moving target, becoming increasingly “unpredictable.”

NBC: Fire Season Begins With Nearly One Million Acres Torched, April 23, 2022.

MSNBC: Climate Change Is Our Greatest Existential Threat, January 3, 2022.

Guardian: The climate science behind wildfires | Why are they getting worse?, August 20, 2021.

Responding To The Disaster

President Biden’s declaration will address this resource shortage through emergency funding, directing temporary housing grants, home repair grants, and low-cost loans accessible to the people and businesses in need of relief. It will also mobilize Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials to conduct assessments of the damage.

Regarding the declaration’s disaster relief, New Mexico congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez stated, "It will help us do that rebuilding and it will help us with the expenses and the hardship that people are facing right now. We’re glad it happened this quickly.”

CNBC: President Biden declares wildfires in New Mexico a 'major disaster,' May 5, 2022.

Forbes: Climate Change Could Drive Wildfire Risk Up 50% By End Of Century, UN Warns, February 23, 2022.

WSJ: The Science of Wildfires | Why They're Getting Worse, September 1, 2020.

Verge: Why wildfire season never stops, July 2018.

WW0: Dr. Alex Hall & Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali Discuss the California Fires and Climate Change, September 30, 2020.