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Rain, snow slow New Mexico fire but hot, dry weather forecast

SANTA FE, N.M – North America’s largest wildfire came to a near halt in northern New Mexico on Tuesday amid light rain and some snow in the mountains as nearly 3,000 firefighters scramble to forestall a worsening fire forecast in the coming days.

Memorial Day weekend historically marks the start of peak wildfire season in many parts of the Southwest. But wildfires have already burned an area larger than the state of Delaware this year amid extremely dry conditions brought on by prolonged drought and climate change.

In Arizona, a new fire briefly forced evacuations near Flagstaff on Tuesday. Authorities investigating the cause said they were looking for a person of interest near the trailhead, half a mile (0.8 kilometers) from Lowell Observatory.

Firefighters in New Mexico said they hoped to continue clearing combustible vegetation Wednesday and to use planes to clear smoldering forests before windier, hotter and drier conditions return into the weekend.

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On Friday, “fire weather is beginning to enter the critical phase where we are likely to see more growth and fire movement,” Forest Service fire behavior analyst Stewart Turner said at a Tuesday night briefing.

The fire, which broke out about seven weeks ago in the Rocky Mountain foothills east of Santa Fe, was 41% surrounded by clearings and barriers that can prevent a wildfire from spreading further.

The fire has destroyed more than 486 square miles (1,260 square kilometers) of timber, grassland and scrub, with evacuations lasting for weeks. Its circumference stretches 634 miles (1,020 kilometers)—more than the distance between New York City and Detroit.

It is among six active major fires in the state that have burned in an area of ​​1,388 square kilometers.

So far this year, wildfires have burned about 2,650 square miles (6,860 square kilometers) of the United States. This is according to a. about double the average for this time of year national center for the coordination of forest fire fighting.

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Jayson Coil, one of the incident commanders in New Mexico, said what “will keep me up at night” are the hidden hotspots where extremely dry roots and dead logs smoldering underground can quickly burst into flames.

“You can have one of these (logs) stuck in a snow bank, but the wood will hold heat there,” he said Tuesday night.

“Once one side of them burns, it will be like a cigar. It can take several days depending on what’s around them, but the fire will crawl down, stay there and then pop out the other side,” he said.

A wildfire on the outskirts of Los Alamos National Laboratory was 85% contained Tuesday. Nearby, Bandelier National Monument is preparing to reopen some areas to visitors on Friday.

In southwest New Mexico, a fire burned through portions of the Gila National Forest and outlying areas.

Due to the increased risk of fire, stricter campfire and smoking bans will go into effect Wednesday or Thursday in all six Arizona state forests, Forest Service officials said Tuesday.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/national/2022/05/24/rain-snow-slow-new-mexico-fire-but-hot-dry-weather-looms/ Rain, snow slow New Mexico fire but hot, dry weather forecast

Sarah Y. Kim

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