Mon, Jun 03, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Firefighters battle growing blazes in western US states

AP, ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico

Fire crews in New Mexico fought two growing wild blazes on Saturday that have driven people from their homes and scorched thousands of hectares, while a shift in the wind prompted evacuation calls for more than 1,000 homes in California.

New Mexico officials said an uncontained blaze near Santa Fe had spread to 25km2, making it apparently the largest of several wildfires burning in the western US as it placed the city under a blanket of haze.

The thick smoke also covered the Gallinas Canyon and Las Vegas, New Mexico.

The fire in New Mexico’s Santa Fe National Forest is burning just 40km from the city, prompting the Red Cross to set up an emergency shelter at a nearby high school.

Officials asked residents in about 140 summer homes to evacuate as a crew of 340 battled the flames near the communities of Pecos and Tres Lagunas.

Crews also cleared out campgrounds and closed trailheads in the area as they worked to prevent the fire from moving toward the capital city’s watershed and more populated areas.

The state Department of Health warned residents in the Pecos, Santa Fe and Espanola areas to prepare for smoke and take precautions by avoiding prolonged or physical activity outdoors.

Another New Mexico blaze had grown to about 5km2, state forestry officials said. Between 40 and 50 homes in the area were evacuated as about 80 crew members and a helicopter arrived to help fight the blaze.

Elsewhere, fire crews worked to beat several other fires, including one in California and another in southwest Colorado.

Residents of more than 1,000 homes were ordered to leave on Saturday as erratic winds pushed a wildfire closer to two foothill communities north of Los Angeles.

The wind shifted in several directions, fanning the fire in the Angeles National Forest to nearly 23km2, US Forest Service spokesman Nathan Judy said.

Daytime temperatures that topped at 40oC and the erratic winds worked against the nearly 1,000 firefighters on the line. Judy said the wind pushed the fire up and down steep slopes, creating embers that sparked spot fires in different directions.

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