USA — ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. Fire crews in New Mexico fought two growing wild blazes Saturday that have driven people from their homes and scorched thousands of acres, while a shift in the wind prompted evacuation calls for more than 1,000 homes in California.
New Mexico officials said an uncontained blaze near Santa Fe had spread to nearly 10 square miles, making it apparently the largest of several wildfires burning in the West as it placed the city under a blanket of haze. The thick smoke also covered the Gallinas Canyon and Las Vegas, N.M.
The fire in New Mexico’s Santa Fe National Forest is burning just 25 miles from the city, prompting the Red Cross to set up an emergency shelter at a nearby high school.
Officials asked residents in about 140 summer homes to evacuate as a crew of more than 400 battled the flames near the communities of Pecos and Tres Lagunas.
Crews also cleared out campgrounds and closed trailheads in the area as they worked to prevent the fire from moving toward the capital city’s watershed and more populated areas.
The state Department of Health warned residents in the Pecos, Santa Fe and Espanola areas to prepare for smoke and take precautions by avoiding prolonged or physical activity outdoors.
“Potentially unhealthy conditions could occur in these communities overnight and into the early morning,” a statement released by health officials said.
Another New Mexico blaze, the Thompson Ridge fire near Jemez Springs, grew to nearly two square miles by Saturday night, state forestry officials said. Between 40 and 50 homes in the area were evacuated as more than 200 crew members and a helicopter were fighting the blaze burning through pine forests and brush.
Forecasters said some rain was possible in both fire areas on Sunday as well as gusty winds.
Elsewhere in the West, fire crews worked to beat several other fires, including one in California and another in southwest Colorado.
Residents of more than 1,000 homes were ordered to leave Saturday as erratic winds pushed a wildfire closer to two foothill communities north of Los Angeles.
The wind shifted in several directions, fanning the fire in the Angeles National Forest to nearly 9 square miles, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Nathan Judy.
By dusk, it marched downhill toward Lake Hughes and Lake Elizabeth, west of Lancaster, he said. He did not know whether any structures have been burned.
Daytime temperatures that topped at 105 degrees and the erratic winds worked against the nearly 1,000 firefighters on the line. Judy said the wind pushed the fire up and down steep slopes, creating embers that sparked spot fires in different directions.
In Colorado, Mike Blakeman, a spokesman for the Rio Grande National Forest, said a fire 15 miles southwest of the small town of Creede was reported at about noon Friday and the cause of it remained under investigation. No structures have been damaged, but three homes and several outbuildings were threatened Saturday.
John Parmenter, director of Scientific Services Division at the nearby Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico, told the Albuquerque Journal that the Thompson Ridge fire ignited Friday in dense territory that was scheduled for thinning in the next few years because it posed a fire hazard.
“The area that it’s in is very steep terrain leading up to the Valles Caldera,” he said. “It could burn a lot of forest . There’s a lot of fuel in there.”