Wildfire in Laguna Niguel burns 200 acres, multimillion-dollar homes
Orange County Fire Authority officials said climate change has turned small fires that once would’ve been easily contained into extreme threats.
Cody Godwin, Associated Press
Another warm, dry and windy day could fan the flames of the nation’s largest wildfire in New Mexico on Thursday as authorities warned residents in nearby towns to be ready for evacuations.
The fire in northern New Mexico along the eastern side of the Sangre de Cristo range was pushing north and east, away from the town of Taos on Wednesday, said fire operations chief Todd Abel, “but we’re still going to pay close attention.”
Residents in San Miguel, Mora, Taos and Colfax counties were all told to stay on “high alert” for changes to evacuation orders. Taos is a popular tourist destination and the biggest population center in the area.
“I think everyone is a little on edge,” Karina Armijo, a town spokeswoman, told the Associated Press. “It’s hard to say what’s going to happen a week from now versus three weeks from now — or even tomorrow.”
The National Weather Service on Thursday issued another red flag warning for the area around the fire, meaning “any fires that develop will spread rapidly and will be very hard to control,” forecasters said. Winds with gusts up to 40 mph were expected, along with humidity in the single digits.
Conditions could improve by the weekend, but additional crews were ordered to join the already 1,800 fire personnel fighting the more than 370 square mile blaze.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday said there were no reports in recent days of widespread damage to homes, but fighting the fire and another smaller blaze near Los Alamos National Laboratory has already cost $65 million.
“This is tough firefighting business right here,” Incident Commander Dave Bales said. “This is not easy, especially in the fuel types we’re in, in the Ponderosa pine, mixed conifer, even down into the grass. When we can’t fly aircraft, when we can’t get people on the direct edge of the fire, when it’s spotting over us, that’s a huge concern for us.”
The fire, about 33% contained, is actually two separate blazes that merged April 22. The Hermits Peak Fire ignited April 6 after a prescribed burn grew out of the containment area due to winds.. The Calf Canyon Fire started April 19, and its cause remains under investigation.
Across five states, nine large uncontained fires have burned 500 square miles, most in New Mexico and Arizona, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.
Blaze in Laguna Niguel burns multiple homes
In California, a wildfire lit Wednesday along the coastal bluffs in Laguna Niguel. At least 20 homes were burned in the area with numerous multimillion-dollar mansions, according to fire officials.
Utility company Southern California Edison told the state’s utility commission there was electrical “circuit activity” around the same time the fire ignited.
“Our information reflects circuit activity occurring close in time to the reported time of the fire. Our investigation is ongoing,” the company said.
The California Public Utilities Commission last year approved a settlement of more than half a billion dollars in fines and penalties for Southern California Edison due to its role in five wildfires in 2017 and 2018.
Orange County Fire Authority chief Brian Fennessy said winds drove embers into into palm trees, attics and dense, dry brush and that parts of the area hadn’t burned for decades. He also noted the connection between more intense wildfires and climate change in recent years.
New Mexico and Arizona’s governors both warned of fire season that began early in 2022, raising worries that warmer, drier weather would mean more blazes in earlier spring months.
“I’m reluctant to call it wildfire season anymore because as our firefighters and fire officials know, Arizona faces the risk of wildfires year-round,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said in March.
Contributing: Perry Vandell, Arizona Republic; The Associated Press