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Strong winds, high temperatures, and low humidity continued fanning the flames on Sunday of a devastating wildfire that has already scorched more than 275 square miles in northern New Mexico.
“An exceptionally dangerous and likely historic stretch of critical to extreme fire weather conditions will persist through the middle portion of next week,” the National Weather Service Albuquerque warned on Saturday.
More than 1,500 firefighters are battling the Hermit’s Peak and Calf Canyon fires that are raging northeast of Santa Fe and only 21% contained.
High winds with tastes up to 50 mph have complicated firefighters’ efforts, keeping scooper planes periodically grounded throughout the weekend.
“The wind is incredible. It is precedent setting, the amount of wind we are going to have and the duration we are going to have it,” Todd Abel, a spokesman for the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, said a press conference on Sunday.
NEW MEXICO WILDFIRES CAPTURED IN NASA SATELLITE IMAGES
The National Weather Service Albuquerque issued a red flag warning on Saturday that will stay in place through Monday evening, citing “very strong winds, several hours of single digit humidity, above average warmth as well as a very unstable atmosphere.”
The Hermits Peak fire started more than a month ago when a prescribed burn in the Santa Fe National Forest got out of control due to “unexpected erratic winds.” The Calf Canyon fire started about two weeks later and eventually merged with the Hermits Peak fire.
Thousands of residents have already been forced to evacuate and fire spokesman Todd Abel warned that residents who have yet to do so but are under evacuation orders could cause congestion if they wait any longer.
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President Biden declared a major disaster in the area on Thursday, which will allow those impacted by the fires to get temporary housing, home repairs, and other benefits during the recovery.
About 1,986 square miles have already been burned throughout the United States this year, which is the most since 2018 at this point in the year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.