(NewsNation) — A pair of wildfires spreading through northeast New Mexico prompted evacuations overnight as they grew closer to Las Vegas, threatening the city’s water supply.
So far, about 15,500 homes have been evacuated and 170 homes destroyed in New Mexico because of the fire. Officials expect that number to grow.
On Tuesday, firefighters scrambled to clear brush, build fire lines and spray water to keep the fire contained.
San Miguel County has been particularly hard-hit by the wildfires. As of Tuesday morning, the fire was still only 31% contained in San Miguel, County Manager Joy Ansley said, and between 6,000 and 7,000 residents have had to evacuate from the area.
“A lot of people just because of the cultures of northern New Mexico are staying with relatives,” she said. “But we do have many, many people in shelters.”
The weather has not been cooperating with officials as they try to fend off the fire, Ansley said, with low humidity and high winds making it difficult.
“It is extremely dangerous,” Ansley said. “We have to hold it together for our community, for our other officials who are dealing with it, for the firefighters who are on the ground, and we just keep doing it because that’s what we do.”
The fires have gotten so bad, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a request asking President Joe Biden for a U.S disaster declaration to free up financial assistance for recovery efforts.
“I’m unwilling to wait,” said Lujan Grisham. “I have families who don’t know what the next day looks like, I have families who are trying to navigate their children and health care resources, figure out their livelihoods and they’re in every single little community and it must feel to them like they are out there on their own.”
Although Tuesday brought a brief reprieve from extreme weather conditions, Dan Pearson, a U.S. Forest Service fire behavior analyst, warned that winds are expected to increase Wednesday, pushing fire and smoke toward Las Vegas.
“Tomorrow, we’re back to red-flag criteria,” Pearson said, adding that forecasts called for better firefighting conditions on Thursday and Friday before winds increase and gusts whip to 50 mph or more during the weekend.
Other areas could see flames too— after the nation’s latest wave of hot, dry and windy weather, forecasters issued warnings for parts of Arizona and Colorado. Authorities in Texas told people to be careful after crews had to respond to several new fires in the state Monday.