US wildfires force evacuation of 1,000 homes



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

New Mexico officials said on Saturday an uncontained blaze near Santa Fe had spread to 21 square km, making it apparently the largest of several wildfires burning in the West 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 40 km 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 2.5 square km, state forestry officials said. Between 40 and 50 homes in the area were evacuated as around 80 crew members and a helicopter arrived to help fight the blaze.

Elsewhere in the West, 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 yesterday 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 23 square km, said US Forest Service spokesman Nathan Judy.

Daytime temperatures that topped at 105 degrees Fahrenheit 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.

PTI