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Fierce Winds Drive Wildfires in US Southwest
By Staff, Agencies
Howling winds pushed wildfires toward villages in New Mexico on Friday, forcing thousands to flee their homes as blazes burned across the United States southwest.
Over a dozen small communities were evacuated as two wildfires – dubbed the Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak fires – merged in mountains around 30 miles northwest of the capital city Santa Fe, driven by winds of over 60 mph.
"It's heartbreaking, it's terrifying," said Joy Ansley, a spokeswoman for San Miguel County where the fires are burning.
"We're not letting people back in once they come out, it's a very serious, a very grim situation."
The blazes were among over a dozen burning across the US southwest as a decades-long drought combined with abundant dry vegetation, raising concerns that the region is in for a harsh fire year.
"There's going to be a lot of homes, buildings impacted, it's a very chaotic situation," said Stewart Turner, a fire behavior analyst.
Biologists noted that rising temperatures lowered winter snowpacks and allowed for larger and more extreme fires to start earlier this year. Climate scientists pointed to human-caused climate change for prolonging and intensifying the region's drought.
"New Mexico right now has multiple fires going, Arizona has multiple fires going, and that is abnormal for this early in the season," said Laura Rabon, a spokeswoman for the Lincoln National Forest in southern New Mexico where two people died in a blaze last week.
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