Wildfires are raging at a furious pace earlier this year—from the top of a California hill where a months-old monster fire engulfed a multimillion-dollar Pacific Ocean-view mansion in the New Mexico mountains. was put.
The two places couldn’t be much different, but have similar elements: Wind-driven flames have ripped through vegetation that is exceptionally dry from years of drought caused by climate change.
As northern New Mexico wildfires chewed through more dense forest on Thursday, firefighters in the coastal community of Laguna Niguel doused the charred and smoldering remains of 20 large homes, which quickly engulfed the flames and forced a frantic evacuation.
“The sky, everything was orange. It seemed like a hell, so we just jumped in the car,” said Sasan Darian, as he ran with his daughter and father while embers swirled around them. “My daughter said, ‘We are on fire.’ There were sparks on it and we were patting ourselves.”
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, more than 5,180 square kilometers have burned across the country so far this year – the most at this point since 2018. Forecasts for the rest of the spring do not bode well for the West, with climate change leading to drought and warmer climates increasing the risk of wildfires.
“We all know it’s really early for our fire season and we’re all in awe of what we’ve already experienced,” said New Mexico Fire Commander Dave Belles. We
Fire officials said they could not do much in recent days to stop the raging flames burning in the dry forests of the Sangre de Cristo range.
Filled with high mountains covered with ponderosa pine and other trees, dried up by moisture over decades, it has now burned over 1,048 square kilometers—an area larger than the city of Dallas, Texas.
Crews fighting the flames on the mountain fronts between Santa Fe and Taos thanked mostly on Thursday for welcoming help from the airstrikes. But chief of fire operations Todd Abel said that in some places where the wind was blowing over the ridgetops, it was “almost like putting a hairdryer on it.”
Brian Fennessy, the chief of the Orange County Fire Authority, said that even small fires that were once easily contained are extreme threats to life and property due to climate change.
The perfect example of this came on Wednesday afternoon when flames from electrical equipment were pushed into the valley by strong sea winds and large houses caught fire. They burned a relatively small area – about 81 hectares – but left a great deal of destruction.
A sprawling property that sold for $9.9 million looked like a California dream in real estate listings: with luxuries that include a two-level library, a “wellness wing” with sauna and steam room, and a terrace overlooking beautiful Laguna Beach. But a pool was included.
By nightfall, the mansion once photographed against a pastel sunset had turned into a nightmare: Its arched facade was capped against a bright yellow sky as firefighters trained their hoses on the enclosed structure.
The house was one of several smoke casualties marked with yellow tape, following the huge flames on Thursday. In another driveway, a charred car rested on its rims. The surrounding steep hills were darkened and the vegetation was stripped.
Many other houses appeared spotless and palm trees that had survived the ember attack were swept up in the calm winds upstairs.
Two firefighters were admitted to the hospital but no casualties were reported.
TJ McGovern, assistant chief of the Orange County Fire Authority, said the cause of the fire was being investigated and damages continued to be inspected on Thursday. Southern California Edison reported that unspecified electrical “circuit activity” occurred when the fire broke out on Wednesday afternoon.
Electric utility equipment has repeatedly been linked to starting some of California’s most devastating wildfires, especially during windy weather.
The State Public Utilities Commission last year approved a settlement of more than half a billion dollars in fines and fines for SoCal Edison for its role in five wildfires in 2017 and 2018.
In New Mexico, another red-flag warning was expected to end by Friday night for the first time in a week, officials said, but extremely low humidity and bone-dry fuel will continue to provide flames ample opportunity to spread.
Incident Commander Belles warned Thursday night, “This fire keeps growing.”
Residents of the four counties east and northeast of Santa Fe remained under a variety of evacuation orders and alerts, and fire officials expected to continue north of Taos through sparsely populated areas about 64 kilometers south of the Colorado Line. The fire will continue on the eastern route.
With strong spring winds throwing embers into the unincorporated area, the fires have grown tens of square miles daily since beginning April 6, when a scheduled burn to clear brush and small trees – to prevent future fires For – got out of control. That fire merged into another wildfire several weeks later.
The fire has burned more than 170 homes so far, but officials have said the number is expected to rise significantly as more assessments are made and residents are allowed to return home to areas deemed safe.
The New Mexico fires burned mostly in the countryside, including a mix of scattered farm houses, historic Hispanic villages dating back centuries, and high-dollar summer cabins. Some ranchers and farming families, who have called the area home for generations, have spoken at length about the purity of the landscape, while many others are too broken to express what they have lost.