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Fast-moving New Mexico wildfires burn more than 100 structures, thousands of acres

Several wildfires in the state have been fueled by a warm, dry spring.

A fast-moving fire in New Mexico destroyed an estimated 150 structures, including homes, and forced the evacuation of a high school Tuesday, officials said.

The McBride Fire initially covered 3,000-acres but had grown to 4,132 acres, the Lincoln National Forest said.

It's one of a handful of large wildfires that have put the state on edge amid a red flag fire warning that covered much of New Mexico this week.

On April 5, Albuquerque matched 2021’s record high temperature of 81 for the date. The warm, dry conditions last week nourished the first of the state's major blazes this month, the Hermits Peak Fire, which has burned 7,900 acres and is 10 percent contained, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The fire began April 6 when unexpected winds swept through the area of a prescribed burn in the Santa Fe National Forest and blew it beyond its boundaries, federal officials said.

Smoke billows from a fire near the Bosque north of Rio Communities, in New Mexico, on April 11, 2022.
Smoke billows from a fire near the Bosque north of Rio Communities, in New Mexico, on April 11, 2022.Valencia County Fire Department via Facebook

The shift was among the worst-case scenarios envisioned by the National Weather Service, which called the combination of warmth, wind and dryness this week “a recipe for critical fire weather.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham urged New Mexicans to be vigilant.

“Please take every precaution — just one spark can start a wildfire!” she said in a tweet.

The wildfire is the state’s largest this week at 7,900 acres and 10 percent containment, according to the Forest Service.

The Hermits Peak Fire prompted local and federal officials to announce mandatory evacuation orders Tuesday below the eastern slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that frame Santa Fe: San Ignacio, La Canada, Las Tusas, Manuelitas, Southwest Sapello, Canoncito and Southern Tierra Madre Canon.

About 190 miles south of Santa Fe, the McBride Fire started Tuesday afternoon and quickly expanded into a major fire that threatened Ruidoso High School and the village of Ruidoso, which declared a state of emergency.

State and federal officials initially said Tuesday the wildfire had consumed 15,000 acres, but by evening that figure was re-evaluated to 3,000. There was no containment Tuesday night.

In a statement, Ruidoso attributed the downsizing to a successful firefight from the air. "An air attack update has decreased the estimated acreage," it said.

About 1,700 students from the high school and feeder campuses were evacuated within 90 minutes of the order, the village said. Local schools were canceled Wednesday.

No injuries were reported, but the area's structure losses were the worst so far among the state's four wildfires of concern this week. Ruidoso was also experiencing power outages, officials said.

The Nogal Canyon Fire started Tuesday in the area of the Lincoln National Forest and spread to 20 acres with no containment, state fire officials said in an afternoon statement. There have been few updates and the latest acreage for the blaze was unclear Tuesday night.

The Big Hole Fire in Valencia County started Monday and grew to 850 acres by Tuesday afternoon, state officials said. The blaze was threatening enough that La Merced Elementary School in Rio Communities was closed Tuesday, and residents of the area were told to prepare for possible evacuation orders.

The wildfire has damaged or destroyed one home and 18 outbuildings, such as sheds, garages and barns, the state officials said.

The fire was burning on both sides of the Rio Grande on Tuesday. Grisham said the state has submitted a request for a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant that could help get more resources to fight the Big Hole Fire.

High winds continued to be the engine of the state’s blazes, with gusts of nearly 60 mph recorded Tuesday, according to the weather service’s Albuquerque office.

A cold front is expected to bring even stronger winds with speeds of up to 70 mph to parts of New Mexico overnight, and won't bring any relief in the form of rain, federal forecasters said.

Behind it was a warming trend accompanied by "more wind, and the risk for critical fire weather through Sunday," the weather service said in a forecast discussion.