Las Vegas officials prepare for evacuations as northern New Mexico fire approaches city | Local News

LAS VEGAS, NM – City officials braced Sunday for the possibility of mass evacuations of Las Vegas residents on Monday as relentless winds pushed the Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire closer to the city and put d other communities in a growing piece of northern New Mexico.

“This is no small fire,” Las Vegas Mayor Louie Trujillo said during an emergency city council meeting on Sunday. “This is the largest disaster in New Mexico history – one of the largest in United States history.”

The blaze, which had grown to around 104,000 acres by Sunday morning, is currently not the largest in state history and to date has had no reported fatalities. But its proximity to Las Vegas, and further north, Mora, puts it in league with the Whitewater-Baldy, Las Conchas and Cerro Grande fires – monster 21st century fires that have changed landscapes and, in the case of Cerro Grande, communities for decades.

On Saturday evening, officials speculated that the fire at Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon – listed as 30% contained, despite more than 1,000 people at the scene – would at least double in size. It was an estimate that surprised almost no one in the San Miguel and Mora County area of ​​the state, where smoke was rife and mandatory evacuation orders piled up throughout the day.

On Sunday evening, venues on the outskirts of Las Vegas, including Mineral Hill and Montezuma, appeared to be on the path to potential trouble. Small communities far north of the city, including Mora, were no longer safe: authorities issued mandatory evacuation orders for the city early in the day.

“It’s a big shooting,” Dave Bales, the incident commander who was handling the blaze, said Sunday night.

The unforgiving constant through it all was the wind.

It blew relentlessly through Sunday and looks unlikely to offer even a hint of relief until Wednesday.

Gary Zell, meteorologist for Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire, told a briefing that a “twin-barrel system” should bring four days of “critical fire weather”, with low humidity, high temperatures and wind gusts over 45 mph in some areas.

Mark Defries, a spokesman for the incident management team that took over management of the blaze on Sunday, said winds were already reaching speeds of up to 40mph.

“The weather has not been our friend,” he said. “The winds [Monday] are going to come out of the west-northwest, which could potentially push this fire in the direction of Las Vegas.

The frustration with the winds was palpable.

“The wind keeps changing – [from the] one day southwest, then northwest, then southwest,” Bales said.

As local officials worried about what could happen over the next few days, Trujillo said there was not yet a mandatory evacuation order in place for Las Vegas residents. But he noted that the city was preparing for that possibility.

“We are working hard around the clock to make sure all services are ready for the public,” Trujillo said. “We expect the winds to travel south tomorrow [Monday]which will bring the fire closer to the city.

Meanwhile, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham met with community leaders and elected officials in Las Vegas on Sunday. A spokeswoman said they discussed communications strategies and “the best operational framework to ensure we get the appropriate resources to meet the needs of each community.”

Acquire help

As the fire descended on even more people, national and local authorities began to mobilize their efforts to help. The Santa Fe Fire Department said Sunday that by Monday, four engines would be in Las Vegas, along with an ambulance, two commanders and up to 20 firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

According to a press release, local fire unions were coordinating donations to help area farmers and ranchers, including troughs, hay, bowls, crates and paper products. Donations – including Gatorade, hot cereal, nappies and personal hygiene items – are taken to Fire Station 5 on Siler Road.

Preparing for a crisis took on added importance as the scale of the fire grew and those who had lost much of what they had found refuge in Las Vegas.

Charles Zurenko, volunteer site supervisor for the American Red Cross evacuation shelter at Old Memorial Middle School, said the facility was not in the preliminary evacuation zone. And if needs grow, other locations, including the Glorieta Adventure Camps facility, are being considered for additional shelter space. The site already hosts students from the United World College of Montezuma.

“Glorieta is reserved for the state to provide housing for our citizens,” Trujillo said.

Equipped to accommodate 200 evacuees, the shelter at Old Memorial Middle School houses an average of 27 people per night, Zurenko said.

This number could increase, depending on how the fire develops. Late Sunday afternoon, officials added El Turquillo, Lucero and Rainsville to sites under mandatory evacuation orders. Several roads in the region are closed or limited to one way.

Andrew Vigil and his wife, Anita Rivera, whose home between Rociada and Sapello was destroyed by the April 22 fire, could testify to the realities brought by Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon Fire – and the importance of getting out as the exits were still available.

“We barely made it,” Vigil said. “We waited a bit too long.

The couple escaped with their vehicles and dog and had no insurance on the RV and the 400 square foot addition where they lived.

Assessment of further destruction in the approximately 50 miles between Las Vegas and Mora was uncertain. By Friday, the fire had destroyed more than 160 homes, mostly in the Rociada and Pendaries Village neighborhoods of San Miguel County. Several other homes were destroyed from Friday to Saturday in the El Porvenir and Gallinas Canyon area, although officials have not yet been able to complete damage surveys and provide details.

The evacuated United World College students had already moved to Glorieta on Saturday after spending a night at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas. School will not be in session Monday for students in Las Vegas City Schools and West Las Vegas Schools.

Prepare for possibilities

Although Las Vegas Police Chief Anthony Salazar reiterated that an evacuation of the city was not underway, he said the ability of area residents to see flames in the distance puts the area to the test.

“We can’t have any type of panic,” Salazar said. “We are not closing anything at the moment.”

Assuming city residents are told to evacuate, police will start knocking on neighborhood doors, he added.

Acting Las Vegas Fire Chief Steve Spann has asked residents not to use fire hydrants to protect their homes.

“It’s illegal,” Spann said. “I have staff protecting our watershed, and we also have more crews coming in.”

The city’s director of utilities, Maria Gilvarry, said the city’s drinking water supply has been repeatedly tested. “So far it’s been okay and plentiful,” she said.

The Santa Fe National Forest also announced Sunday that the entire Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger District is closed to the public until December to protect public health and safety.

The Cooks Peak Fire further north in Mora and Colfax counties was 59,000 acres and 69% contained, with little growth from the previous day.

In the Jemez Mountains, the Cerro Pelado fire had grown about 10,000 acres since Saturday, to 17,885, and was only 10 percent contained. The wildfire has so far destroyed three homes and is largely burning within the footprint of the 2011 Las Conchas Fire.

The Bandelier National Monument announced on Sunday that it would be closed due to the fire.

A new estimate of the Skiles 429 Fire, which erupted Friday in Union County along the Oklahoma border, reduced the area to 1,312 from 2,500 reported on Saturday.

Cynthia Miller and James Barron contributed to this report.

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