Lightning sparked a few new small fires in the drought-stricken Southwest Monday but the thunderstorms brought welcome rain to the monster blaze that’s been churning for a month in New Mexico and is now the state’s largest in recorded history.
“We haven’t seen rain in a really long time so that’s exciting,” San Miguel County Sheriff Chris Lopez said Monday might at a briefing on the biggest active fire in the U.S. burning east of Santa Fe.
“It gave us a little bit of a breather,” he said at one of the command posts in Las Vegas, N.M., on the southeast flank of the blaze that’s charred 465 square miles.
More than 2,000 fire personnel remain on the lines in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range south of Taos.
More than 260 homes have burned and more evacuations were prompted over the weekend as the blaze moved through dry — and in some cases dead — stands of pine and fir trees. Huge columns of smoke could be seen from miles away, and fire officials and weather forecasts continue to refer to it as an unprecedented situation.
Stepped up aerial attacks also helped about 1,000 firefighters continue to make progress Monday on a big fire west of Santa Fe.
Richard Nieto, wildland fire manager officer for the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said Monday night authorities were preparing to relax the status of evacuation alerts as crews were pushing back the flames about 3 miles southwest of the lab’s federal boundary.
Lightning-sparked fires Monday included one near Sedona, Ariz., but officials said Monday it had burned less than an acre.