LAS VEGAS, New Mexico (AP) – Schoolchildren in the northern community of New Mexico, which was threatened by a forest fire, are expected to resume personal classes on Tuesday, while residents of the northern outskirts of the fire remain on evacuation orders.
The West Las Vegas School District said exceptions will be made for students who are still displaced by the largest U.S. wildfire, or those whose health has been affected by smoke.
Meanwhile, firefighters were working in rough terrain before the big fire, trying to clear the bushes and stop the flames to burn new homes in the foothills of the Rockies.
The fire – exacerbated by decades of drought, warmer temperatures and spring winds – has engulfed 308 square miles (798 square kilometers) of dry Panderosis forests. Thousands of people had to flee the blaze, and about 300 buildings, including homes, were destroyed.
Crews worked several days to protect ranch homes scattered throughout the area and put out small fires that erupted ahead of the main fire.
“So far they have been very lucky in catching them,” said fire information officer Joel Barnett.
This week the factor will remain wind along with low humidity but to varying degrees depending on the day. Firefighters predicted that part of the massive flames would throw to the north rugged terrain, which is difficult to reach firefighters.
“It is not a surprise for us. All the models have shown that this is likely to happen, ”said Todd Abel, head of the fire department.
The region’s largest population center – Las Vegas, New Mexico, home to 13,000 people – remained largely safe from the flames. Some residents were allowed to return over the weekend.
On Monday early Monday, West Las Vegas High School was vacant, except for one instructor who teaches remotely. District schools have switched to distance learning that they have planned as a contingency in case of an increase in coronavirus cases.
“I was not preparing for a forest fire, but for something like this,” said Kenneth Bachich, a media teacher.
Elsewhere in northern New Mexico, a wildfire near key federal government facilities for nuclear research has forced the Los Alamos National Laboratory and others in the area to begin preparations for an evacuation. Officials stressed that there was no immediate threat to the laboratory itself.
This fire burned nearly 64 square miles (165 square kilometers).
Officials said some medically unstable residents and large animals had already been removed from the area to reduce congestion if an evacuation was ordered. They expected residents to be warned at least a day or two if they needed to flee.
“If the fire gets its fifth gear, it will be here sooner than we want,” said incident commander Rich Harvey. “We’re doing our best to check it out.”
Crews in Arizona faced strong winds Monday as they battled a fire near the U.S.-Mexico border that forced several dozen people to flee their homes.
Mantua Brian reported from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Associated Press writer Felicia Fanseca of Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to the report.
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