Editor’s note: The fire grew by 13,000 acres overnight and is now at 190,000 acres or 296 square miles.
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The northern reaches of the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire by Sunday evening had jumped east of N.M. 518 as the wildfire began a rapid march toward homes in and around the communities of Holman, Chacon and Guadalupita. Authorities pleaded with residents there to evacuate while they still can.
Law enforcement and fire officials said the terrain, dry timber and howling, unrelenting winds are posing a dangerous situation for residents who have ignored evacuation orders.
“I cannot stress this enough. There is a lot of people up there. It is time to leave,” Dave Bales, the incident commander, said during a fire briefing. “We want you here … to be able to work together as a community after this thing’s over. If you don’t leave you might not be here for that.”
Mora County Undersheriff Americk Padilla said the sheriff’s office and State Police officers were making, in some cases, their third trip to evacuation areas and urging folks to leave. “It gets a little frustrating,” Padilla said.
At the southern edge of the fire southwest of Las Vegas, New Mexico, crews were working to save structures in the nearby neighborhoods, said Todd Abel, an operations section chief. He said the fire has been active in the Mineral Hills area but crews were working to develop containment lines to stop the fire if it continued to journey south.
“If this fire continues to come down, we have those places that we can make a stand,” he said.
Dan Pearson, a fire behavior analyst, said the blaze was likely to continue moving south toward Barrillas Peak through Sunday night. He said he expected it to be close to San Geronimo by late Monday afternoon.
“It’s really moving, and it’s moving fast,” said San Miguel County Sheriff Chris Lopez. He noted that Romeroville west is on set status, meaning that those residents should be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
Fire officials on Sunday did report improved containment along the eastern edge of the fire near Las Vegas, New Mexico, and to the north.
The biggest wildfire in the country by Sunday evening had swelled to 176,273 acres – or about 275 square miles – and was 43% contained, up from 21% contained Saturday evening.
The fire has destroyed at least 170 homes and thousands of homes are within evacuation zones.
Nearly 1,700 personnel are battling the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire. Bales said crews worked tirelessly to try to keep the blaze west of N.M. 518 but the fire jumped the highway and has established itself in canyons and drainages that can’t be accessed by firefighters.
Bladen Breitreiter, the incident meteorologist, said Sunday that the north central part of New Mexico where the fire is raging is in the middle of a 59-hour red flag warning that started at 11 a.m. Saturday and will last until 9 p.m. Monday. Winds were stronger than 50 miles per hour at times on Sunday.
Breitreiter noted a gust of 59 mph at the Las Vegas, New Mexico, airport.
“We’re in it. We’re in the middle of it,” Bales said.
“This is what we’ve been talking about.”
Fire season in New Mexico has gotten off to a frenzied start and the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire is just one of several large infernos in the state.
The Cerro Pelado Fire, burning in the Jemez mountains, has grown to 37,425 acres and is 11% contained.
Employees at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Los Alamos County residents were told Sunday to prepare for a possible evacuation.
“If you don’t have to be at work, it’s time to prepare to telework,” LANL Director Thom Mason said in a statement.
“Conditions can change quickly, it has been very dry, very windy, and we have to be respectful of that risk and ready for what comes next.”
Fire officials on Sunday said that crews are working to try to keep the fire south of N.M. 4. Firefighters were working Sunday to put out spot fires on the east side of Forest Road 289.