Firefighters struggled Friday to contain a giant blaze that has been burning for more than a month in New Mexico. It is raising fears for the summer ahead in the drought-hit western United States.
The so-called “Hermits Peak Fire” has torn through 168,000 acres at the southern end of the Rocky Mountains. It destroyed around 170 properties and forcing the evacuation of nearly 16,000 homes. But the blaze remains just 20 percent contained.
The fire began on April 6 when a “prescribed” burn. It is intended to remove excess vegetation in a controlled area and escaped control due to strong winds and dry conditions.
The blaze comes at the start of the American West’s long fire season but is already the second-largest in New Mexico’s history. It burned an area more than the state’s average for an entire year. The National Weather Service in Albuquerque warned that windy and dry conditions are expected through the weekend and “will make our bad situation worse.”
US President Joe Biden this week declared a major disaster in New Mexico had unlocked federal resources including financial aid for affected individuals.
New Mexico is in the grip of a years-long drought that has left the area parched and vulnerable to wildfire. Reservoirs have plummeted to dangerously low levels at 31 percent. The water has dropped to such a historic extent that a corroded barrel containing a four-decade-old body was found in the lake earlier this week.
Lake Mead is fed by the Colorado River and it has seen its flow drop by 20 percent over the past century which was driven by atmospheric warming. Their scale and intensity are increasing, though fires are a natural part of the climate cycle and help to clear dead brush. This prolongs droughts in some areas and provokes unseasonably large storms in other places.