Firefighting teams in California and New Mexico are battling early season wildfires that have blackened thousands of acres and threatened homes and buildings, spurring numerous evacuations. Residents of more than 1,000 homes were ordered to leave as erratic winds pushed a wildfire closer to two foothill communities, where officials said five structures, possibly homes, were destroyed yesterday. Meanwhile, an uncontained blaze near Santa Fe, NM, had spread to nearly 10 square miles by last night, 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, NM. The fire in New Mexico's Santa Fe National Forest is burning just 25 miles from the city, prompting the Red Cross to set up an emergency shelter at a nearby high school. Officials asked residents in about 140 homes, mainly summer residences, to evacuate as a crew of more than 400 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. Another New Mexico blaze, the Thompson Ridge fire near Jemez Springs, grew to nearly two square miles by last night, state forestry officials said. Between 40 and 50 homes in the area were evacuated as more than 200 crew members and a helicopter were fighting the blaze burning through pine forests and brush. (Read more New Mexico stories.)