Around two dozen fires are currently sweeping across New Mexico, burning thousands of acres of land within the last month and causing damage to everything in their path. Dry weather and high gusting winds have caused many of the fires to spread and fan out across the desert state.
According to the Fire Weather & Avalanche Center, wildfires are hitting northern New Mexico the hardest. The Hermit’s Peak Fire and the Calf Canyon Fire have merged to create the single largest fire in the state. The fires are located just 30 miles northeast of Santa Fe and 18 miles northwest of Las Vegas, New Mexico. The two wildfires combined have covered over 60,000 acres of land and are only 12% contained. The cause of these fires is still unknown, and fire crews estimate they won’t fully contain them until the end of July.
The Cooks Peak Fire is currently the third largest fire in New Mexico, burning over 54,000 acres of land. It’s located 32 miles east of Taos, New Mexico, and is currently only 18% contained. Firefighters are hopeful the fire will be fully contained by the end of May.
Forty miles outside of Logan, New Mexico, in the northeastern part of the state, is the Mitchell Fire, which has burned 25,000 acres. According to firefighters, Mitchell is currently only 40% contained.
The smaller Cerrado Pelado Fire, located 34 miles northwest of Santa Fe, is currently blazing around 5,000 acres. Its containment seems to be soon, however, with an estimated containment date of May 5.
Moving south near Ruidoso, New Mexico, the McBride Fire is currently 95% contained. Unlike other wildfires in the state, it has damaged hundreds of homes and buildings close to town. McBride also took the lives of two residents, marking the only lives any wildfire has taken this year in New Mexico.
Eleven miles from the McBride Fire is the Nogal Canyon Fire, which has spread to over 400 acres. This fire, along with McBride, is close to being fully contained at 84%.
The 380 Friday Fire, located along U.S. Route 380 east of Roswell and just 36.5 miles northwest of Lovington, New Mexico, has burned 6,500 acres.
Along with these bigger wildfires, there are many smaller ones scattered all throughout the state. They range in size from a few dozen acres to one or 2,000 acres. Most have moderate or “minimal-low” growth rates, and their containment percentages are relatively high. There’s even an active fire near Las Cruces, New Mexico. The Mesilla Fire was first reported two days ago and has currently spread to 44 acres.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has reacted to these wildfires by signing emergency declarations across the state, and has just recently banned the sale of all fireworks throughout the whole state.
Doug Cram is a fire and forestry expert and assistant professor at New Mexico State University. Cram grew up in the mountains of Los Alamos, New Mexico, and has been around wildlife since his childhood, which gave him the inspiration to pursue this as his passion.
Cram says that fire season in New Mexico usually comes around May and June. “Our typical [New Mexico] fire season, historically, has been in May and June,” Cram said. “Having as many significant fires in April is interesting.”
Wildfires destroy everything in their path including homes and forestry, he said. The most devastating thing is the loss of two lives near Ruidoso earlier this month.
“Having lost two lives is a pretty poignant moment,” Cram said. “I can’t recall any of the other big wildfires having any fatalities. That makes [these fires] different from others.
“These recent fires will be remembered as one of the more significant fire seasons we’ve had in New Mexico,” Cram added.
“Many NMSU students have families back home that must deal with these wildfires, which is causing worry and concern among some students.”
Cram said that fires are always going to be in the state whether they’re caused by the most common lighting strikes, or even from campfires.
“We [New Mexicans] live in a fire environment,” Cram said.
The wildfires sweeping across the state have forced thousands to evacuate and devastated many residents through loss of property. Many NMSU students have families back home that must deal with these wildfires, which is causing worry and concern among some students.
Erika Rodriguez is a senior at NMSU and was born and raised in Ruidoso. She said she has had to evacuate twice from wildfires. “This [McBride] fire is really sad,” Rodriguez said. “It has affected a lot of people.”
“I’ve had to evacuate in the past because the fire has been that close to my house,” Rodriguez said. “It’s always scary because you never know [what’s going to happen].”
Rodriguez said that Ruidoso’s community is comforting and that the people there help each other a lot in hard times. “I’ve seen a lot of help on social media,” Rodriguez said. “There’s a lot of people willing to donate and help. Everyone is always very helpful because it hits close to home … since everyone has had to evacuate once or twice.”
Josh Montoya is a sophomore at NMSU and is from Las Vegas, New Mexico, where the Hermit’s Peak and Calf Canyon fires are burning. He said the fires hit him hard since they are burning so close to his hometown. “[The Hermit’s Peak Fire] was around Hermit Peak, which is the mountain I go hiking during the summers,” Montoya said. “It hits hard; it hits close because it’s not that far away from my house.”
Montoya said he was concerned about his family and friends when he heard the news about the wildfire. “It made me nervous to see if my dad or grandma had to evacuate,” Montoya said. “So, it just made me worried about my dogs and family.”
To continue tracking wildfires in and around New Mexico, visit fireweatheravalanche.org