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New Mexico wildfire surges to cover over 100,000 acres

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A fire east of Santa Fe, N.M., is the largest in the U.S. right now. It has burned more than 100,000 acres. Winds kicked up over the weekend in Calf Canyon and Hermit's Peak, quickly spreading the flames.

Max Trujillo is commissioner for San Miguel County in New Mexico, one of the counties that's heavily affected by the fire. Thanks for joining us.

MAX TRUJILLO: Good afternoon, Ari. Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: Begin by giving us a sense of what it's like to be near this fire and how many people have been affected already.

TRUJILLO: Well, you know, the whole county of Mora, the whole county of San Miguel, and, you know, communities inside (inaudible) Las Tusas, Sapello, Cleveland goes on and on - there's about 20-, 30,000 people that are affected right now by this fire.

SHAPIRO: This is an area that has experienced wildfires in the past, but a fire this big in early spring is unusual. Tell us about what led to this.

TRUJILLO: Well, the initial fire, the Hermit's Peak Fire, started by a prescribed burn that jumped the line, the control line, and created a over 10,000-acre fire, which was just about controlled. And then the Calf Canyon started - the Calf Canyon Fire started a little over maybe four miles away from the Hermit's Peak Fire. That one grew so quickly and spread so fast that, you know, that's - the two fires merged, not this past Friday but the Friday before. And, you know, right now, we're battling a 120,653-acre burn with over 200 miles of perimeter.

So - and, you know, what made this happen is, you know, we - very low snowpack, fields are - the relative humidity in fields is in single digits. So all the circumstances, all the things that lead to major fires are present in this - in our situation.

SHAPIRO: Drier, hotter, less precipitation earlier in the year - those all sound like the things that scientists say we will see more of with climate change. Do you draw a connection here?

TRUJILLO: I absolutely do. I - you know, you can't avoid what's happening on the ground. You know, we - over the past 3 to four years, we've had less and less snowpack. Winter precipitation has diminished. You know, we're getting hotter weather faster. Even when we do have snowpack, you know, by mid-May, pretty much all the snowpack has melted...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

TRUJILLO: ...And come downstream. So, you know, this has been reoccurring over the last few years and - you know, which causes the fuel loads, which is massive in our forests...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

TRUJILLO: ...To dry up and be primed for a fire like this.

SHAPIRO: And just in a couple sentences - as forecasters say, strong winds are likely to continue. Are you prepared for this to spread further?

TRUJILLO: Well, we've had almost 20 days in the last 25 days that have been red-flag warning days, red-flag wind days, and no end in sight for that weather pattern in our area.

SHAPIRO: All right.

TRUJILLO: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. That is Max Trujillo, commissioner for San Miguel County in New Mexico. Thank you for your time, and good luck.

TRUJILLO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRENTEMOLLER'S "MISS YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.