As 'Heartbreaking' Blaze Burns, Thousands Just Won't Leave

Residents in Mora County, NM, refuse to evacuate amid largest US wildfire
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 6, 2022 7:26 AM CDT
Thousands Refuse to Flee Largest US Wildfire
In this Sunday photo, plumes of smoke from wildfires are seen from Highway 518, a few miles north of Las Vegas, NM.   (Jasper Bives via AP)

(Newser) – In the mountains north of Santa Fe, NM, residents are known for being able to tough things out. Which helps explain why thousands are now refusing to flee in Mora and San Miguel counties, where the nation's largest current wildfire is still raging, reports Reuters. It has scorched more than 165,000 acres and destroyed 160-plus homes, and locals who are sticking it out are placing themselves in a potentially dangerous situation. "I have no doubt that we have people without power who are on oxygen," New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said at a press conference. "I have no doubt we have individuals who are running out of food and water."

But those who live in the region have a history and culture that "stretches back longer than the United States has existed," reports the New York Times, making them reluctant to ditch their homes as the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire burns. The paper notes that a good number of the farmers and ranchers who are at the center of the megafire, which President Biden has declared a disaster, count Hispanic settlers and Native Americans as their ancestors, with a rich heritage that reaches back so far that some can't remember when their family arrived. "It's more than just your place or your personal belongings and your material things," Matthew Probst, a doctor who lives in the town of Ojitos Frios, tells Reuters. "This is your land, your soul connected to it generationally."

"These fires are burning down a way of life that's lasted hundreds of years," New Mexico state historian Rob Martinez tells the Times. Firefighters have been battling the blaze, the second-largest ever in New Mexico, for more than a month, and it was only about 20% contained as of Friday morning, per CNN. State Rep. Roger Montoya is among those trying to help evacuees as they wait out the inferno, assisting with lodging and meals. "It's apocalyptic to see this beautiful place burning," he tells KRQE. Those who've been displaced agree, lamenting their situation from hotels and other temporary accommodations. "Mora means everything to me," one local says. "I've lived there all my life. It's heartbreaking." (Read more New Mexico stories.)

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