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The nation’s largest wildfire forced the evacuation of nearly 200 patients at New Mexico’s state psychiatric hospital on Monday.
But crews were able to use aircraft to help keep the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire away from Mora and Las Vegas, officials said Monday evening.
“The wind was a little lighter today, which did give us a good opportunity to get in and do some good work,” said operations section chief Todd Abel. “We still had some fire growth.”
Officials issued mandatory evacuation orders Monday morning for the west fringes of Las Vegas, just west of the evacuation shelter at the old Memorial Middle School.
Another evacuation shelter has opened at the Glorieta Camp near Pecos.
The fire has torched more than 138,000 acres and is just 20% contained.
San Miguel County Manager Joy Ansley said Monday morning was “pretty rough.”
But officials are not making evacuation decisions lightly.
“This is a horrible time, and we know that people are suffering a lot of losses,” Ansley said. “We know that everybody is scared, and not sure where this is going.”
The New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute evacuated all 197 patients in the early morning hours as the fire raged toward Las Vegas.
At 1 a.m. Monday, the National Guard helped the state-operated psychiatric hospital evacuate.
Some patients are being moved to the State Veterans’ Home in Truth or Consequences and the Fort Bayard Medical Center in southern New Mexico, according to the state Health Department.
“I want to thank our staff for their commitment, courage and compassion,” said acting Health Secretary David Scrase. “Many of our caregivers live in the area that burned and many still don’t know if their homes are still standing – still, they put their patients first.”
Luna Community College, which is serving as a headquarters for several disaster agencies, is in an evacuation zone. Those agency teams are sheltering in place.
The college canceled classes and postponed its spring graduation ceremony.
New Mexico Highlands University, Las Vegas City Schools and West Las Vegas Schools have all canceled classes through Wednesday.
Abel said the fire “made a very big run” Sunday night, which pushed the blaze close to Bradner Reservoir and to the north and south sides of the United World College in Montezuma.
Crews are putting fire lines west of Las Vegas.
“We have crews in there working on doing what we call a firing operation, where they’re actually removing the fuel between the fire and that line to make sure that fire doesn’t want to make a hard run and get over that line,” Abel said.
The fire also flared up in previously evacuated areas such as Pendaries, Sapello and Las Tusas.
On the north side of the blaze, crews worked to protect homes near Cleveland and Mora.
Those areas are under mandatory evacuation orders.
“We are taking the punches where we can to just keep wearing down our opponent,” said incident commander Dave Bales.
New Mexico state Sen. Pete Campos lives in Las Vegas and represents several counties affected by multiple wildfires.
He has spent weeks coordinating shelter sites and supplies for displaced residents.
“What’s really heartbreaking is that as families deal with this, and in many cases they’ve lost so much, it’s going to take a long time to put it back together,” Campos said.
City of Las Vegas Police Chief Antonio Salazar said that staffing issues – not evacuations – closed the local Walmart for the day.
The fire has not breached city limits.
“There are resources … making sure that the fire doesn’t get into the city,” Salazar said. “If it does, then we have plans for that. We are working with the National Guard and we have plans for that.”
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.