The Calf Canyon and Hermits Peak fires in northern New Mexico have merged, fire officials said Saturday morning.
The fire complex has burned more than 42,300 acres, according to the Santa Fe National Forest.
Jason Coil, an operations section chief with the Southwest Area Incident Management Team, said fire conditions on Friday were “catastrophic” and are expected to continue on Saturday.
He pleaded with residents to follow evacuation orders.
“You can’t see even in the middle of the day,” Coil said. “There’s embers falling all around you, the smoke has pushed all the way down to the valley floors because of the winds. And if you choose to stay in that environment, it’s not likely that you’ll get out of there.”
Firefighters are focused on saving homes that have not burned, Coil said, and the team doesn’t “know the magnitude of the structure loss.”
“We haven’t had the opportunity to get in there (to evaluate),” he said. “Right now it’s not safe … We’ll get people in there when it’s safe to do so.”
Crews will work on Saturday to protect “saveable homes” within the fire perimeter and prepare homes just outside the fire.
Rapid fire growth has forced widespread evacuations and road closures across San Miguel and Mora counties.
On Saturday morning, an electronic road sign on I-25 leading into Las Vegas warned travelers that there is no fuel in Mora, and advised drivers to plan ahead.
Saturday is another critical fire weather day.
Wind gusts of up to 45 mph are possible in the Las Vegas area.
“There’s concerns about the fire continuing to push to the north and to the east and closer to Mora,” Coil said. “And we’re also concerned about the fire moving further to the east more quickly than we’re able to prepare Highway 518 for control.”
Crews will work to keep the fire north of Upper Gallinas Canyon and prevent it from moving further into the watershed that supplies Las Vegas.
Firefighters will also work to push the fire west of Highway 518.
The Calf Canyon Fire was first reported 18 miles northwest of Las Vegas on April 19, and the fire’s cause is under investigation.
The Hermits Peak Fire about 12 miles northwest of Las Vegas began as a prescribed fire on April 6.