Firefighters slowed the advance of huge wildfires in the US state of New Mexico as strong winds relented on Wednesday, while President Joe Biden approved a disaster declaration that brings new financial resources to remote stretches of the state devastated by fire since early April.
US Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez announced the presidential disaster declaration on Wednesday during an evening briefing by the US Forest Service about efforts to contain the sprawling wildfire in northeastern New Mexico, which has fanned out across 647 square km (250 square miles) of high alpine forest and grasslands at the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains.
“It will help us do that rebuilding and it will help us with the expenses and the hardship that people are facing right now,” the congresswoman said. “We’re glad it happened this quickly.”
Firefighters said they are seizing upon an interlude of relatively calm and cool weather to keep the fire from pushing any closer to the small New Mexico city of Las Vegas and other villages scattered along the fire’s shifting fronts. Aeroplanes and helicopters dropped slurries of red fire retardant from the sky, as ground crews cleared timber and brush to starve the fire along crucial fronts.
For days, bulldozers have been scraping fire lines on the outskirts of Las Vegas, population 13,000, while crews have been conducting burns to clear adjacent vegetation. Aircraft dropped more fire retardant as the second line of defence along a ridge just west of town in preparation for intense winds expected over the weekend.
An estimated 15,500 homes in outlying areas and in the valleys of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that border Las Vegas have been affected by mandatory evacuations. The tally of homes destroyed by the fire stands at about 170.