LAS VEGAS, NM – Schoolchildren in a northern New Mexico community threatened by wildfires were expected to resume in-person classes on Tuesday, while those living on the northern sides of the fires were under evacuation orders. remained under.
The West Las Vegas School District said an exception would be made for students still displaced by the largest wildfire in the US or whose health has been affected by the smoke.
Meanwhile, firefighters worked through the rough terrain before a massive fire broke out to clear brush and stop the flames from burning more homes in the Rocky Mountain foothills.
Decades of drought, fueled by warmer temperatures and spring winds have burned 308 square miles (798 square kilometers) of tinder-dried ponderosa forests. Thousands have fled the flames and nearly 300 structures, including homes, have been destroyed.
Crews have spent days working to protect farm houses scattered in the area and to seal small fires that overtake the main fire.
“They’ve had good luck catching them so far,” said Fire Information Officer Joel Barnett.
Wind will continue to be a factor this week with low humidity, but to varying degrees depending on the day. Fire officials had predicted that a portion of the massive fire would reach the north in rugged terrain, which is difficult for firefighters to reach.
“It came as no surprise to us. All the models showed that this was probably going to happen,” said Todd Abel, head of the fire operations section.
The area’s largest population center – Las Vegas, New Mexico, home to 13,000 people – remained largely protected from the flames. Some residents were allowed to return over the weekend.
Early Monday, West Las Vegas High School was empty, but for one instructor teaching remotely. Schools in the district turned to distance learning, something they did as a contingency in case of a surge in coronavirus cases.
“I wasn’t preparing for a wildfire, but something like that,” said mass media teacher Kenneth Bachicha.
Elsewhere in northern New Mexico, a wildfire near federal government facilities for nuclear research prompted Los Alamos National Laboratory and others in the area to begin preparations for evacuation. Officials stressed that there was no immediate threat to the laboratory.
That fire has burned about 64 square miles (165 square kilometres).
Officials said some medically vulnerable residents and large animals have already been evacuated from the area in order to ease traffic congestion. He estimated that residents would have at least a day or two’s notice if they needed to flee.
“If the fire finds its fifth gear, it will be here sooner than we want it to be,” incident commander Rich Harvey said. “We’re doing everything we can to check it.”
Crews in Arizona were facing strong winds on Monday as they battled fires near the US-Mexico border, forcing several dozen people out of their homes.
Montoya Bryan reported from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Associated Press writer Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona contributed to this report.