SANTA FE, N.M.—Crews fighting the second-largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history were trying to take advantage of several days of mild winds to gain control over a fire that had charred more than 450 square miles (1,165 square kilometers) by May 15.
Fire officials said the wildfire grew by about 14 square miles (36 square kilometers) since the night before but now was at 36 percent containment, up from 27 percent previously.
Wildfires are on a furious pace early this year—from a California hilltop where mansions with multimillion-dollar Pacific Ocean views were torched to remote New Mexico mountains charred by a month-old monster blaze.
The two places could not be more different, but the elements in common are the same: wind-driven flames have torn through vegetation that is extraordinarily dry from years-long drought exacerbated by climate change.
As the unstoppable northern New Mexico wildfire chewed through more dense forest May 12, firefighters in the coastal community of Laguna Niguel doused charred and smoldering remains of 20 large homes that quickly went up in flames and forced a frantic evacuation.
Nationwide, more than 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers) have burned so far this year—the most at this point since 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Predictions for the rest of the spring do not bode well for the West, with the drought and warmer weather brought on by climate change worsening wildfire danger.
“We all know it’s really early for our fire season and we’re all in awe of what we’ve already experienced … to this point,” said Dave Bales, commander on the New Mexico fire that is the largest burning in the U.S. (Compiled from Associated Press reports.)