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New Mexico wildfire exceeds 176,000 acres; officials urge residents to evacuate

By Adam Schrader
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New Mexico wildfire exceeds 176,000 acres; officials urge residents to evacuate
The Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fires, which began in mid-April as two separate fires that later combined into the largest blaze in the United States, reached 43% containment. Photo courtesy U.S. Forest Service-Santa Fe National Forest/Facebook

May 9 (UPI) -- A wildfire in New Mexico has reached 176,273 acres in size prompting officials to plead with residents to evacuate their homes.

The Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fires, which began in mid-April as two separate fires that later combined into the largest blaze in the United States, reached 43% containment but grew Sunday after "very active fire behavior" because of wind, officials said in an update Sunday morning.

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"Leading up to this wind event, firefighters put in many control measures to stop and check the fire and continue to do so," the update reads. "These control features are holding in some areas, but the wind is testing them in others."

The northern border of the combined fire jumped N.M. 518, a state highway that runs north from Las Vegas, N.M., to Taos, officials said during a press briefing later Sunday night.

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"It gets a little frustrating on my part as well because there's only so much we can do and there's only so much information we can provide to the community," said Mora County Undersheriff Americk Padilla.

"But like I've told people before and I've told our community members, we need to work together. We need to work as a team to get through this."

Padilla said that deputies have been knocking on doors in areas under evacuation orders to inform people who "decided to stay" that they should evacuate.

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"We've already been out there, not once, not twice, but three times. Right now, the smoke is heavy up there and the visibility is slim to none," Padilla said. "We're putting our lives on the line to go and notify you guys."

Fire officials said that the blaze has particularly pushed toward homes in the communities of Holman, Chacon and Guadalupita and that they anticipated the fire to continue to push south and east through the night.

Todd Abel, an operations section chief, said that crews are in neighborhoods near Holman in the Mineral Hills area "doing good work" to save homes.

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"Once again, I want to stress that people who did not evacuate in the 'go' status, please please reconsider," he said.

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"This fire is moving around in there, with the wind conditions just the fear of our firefighters to go in and protect your values as you're trying to get out can cause some congestion."

Nearly 1,700 firefighters are working to contain the blaze, which has already destroyed at least 170 structures, officials said.

"It's really moving, and it's moving fast," San Miguel County Sheriff Chris Lopez said.

Travis Martinez, a spokesman for the New Mexico Emergency Operation Center, said that a call center has been created to provide information for those who need shelter.

He said that Old Memorial Middle School is the "hub" for donations and that dozens are already sheltered there and that 500 people are passing through daily to get supplies.

The Santa Rosa Convention Center is on standby to provide about 1,000 beds if needed, Martinez said. There are also multiple shelters established in Taos.

Residents can see the air quality at their homes or if they are under evacuation orders on maps provided by fire officials. The Santa Fe National Forest remains closed as firefighters battle the blaze.

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