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“As in hell:” The Western United States is still burning at a frantic pace Up-top news

LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. (AP) – Earlier this year, wildfires raged in February – from the top of a hill in California, where mansions with multimillion-dollar views of the Pacific Ocean were burned, to the remote mountains of New Mexico, scorched by monsters.

These two places may not be more different, but the common elements are the same: the wind of the flame tears the vegetation, which is unusually dry due to years of drought, exacerbated by climate change.

As a rampant forest fire in northern New Mexico on Thursday gnawed through a denser forest, firefighters in the Laguna Nigel coastal community removed the charred and smoldering remains of 20 large homes that quickly caught fire and forced a frantic evacuation.

“Heaven, everything was orange. It was like hell, so we just jumped in the car, ”Sasan Daryan said, telling how he escaped with his daughter and father while the coals were swirling around them. “My daughter said, ‘We’re on fire.’ There were sparks on it, and we stroked ourselves. “

Nationwide, more than 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers) have been burned this year, the most since 2018, according to the National Interdepartmental Fire Center. Forecasts for the rest of the spring do not promise the West anything good, as drought and warm weather caused by climate change exacerbate the danger of forest fires.

“We all know it’s very early for our fire season, and we’re all excited about what we’ve been through … so far,” said Dave Bales, fire commander in New Mexico, who is the most the biggest fire in the world. USA

Firefighters said in recent days they could not do much to stop the rapid flames burning in the rotten forests on the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Fueled by overgrown mountain slopes covered with Ponderosa Pines and other trees soaked from moisture for decades, it now burns more than 405 square miles (1,048 square kilometers) – an area larger than Dallas, Texas.

Crews battling the flames along the mountain fronts between Santa Fe and Taos were largely held on Thursday thanks to coveted help from air strikes. But fire chief Todd Abel said that in some places where the gusts of wind over the ridges, it was “almost like putting a hair dryer”.

Even small fires that could once have been easily eliminated are an extreme threat to life and property due to climate change, said Brian Fennesi, head of the Orange County Fire Department.

A perfect example erupted on Wednesday afternoon when strong sea breezes raised flames, which may have caused electrical utilities, up the canyon and quickly set fire to large houses. They burned a relatively small area – about 200 acres (81 hectares) – but left a long path of destruction.

The large estate, which sells for $ 9.9 million, looked like a California dream on the property list: a luxury that included a two-level library, a “wellness wing” with sauna and steam room and a pool on the terrace overlooking the scenic Lagoon Beach.

As night fell, the mansion, once photographed against a pastel sunset, turned into a nightmare: its arched façade stood out against the gleaming yellow sky as firefighters pulled their hoses on the covered structure.

After a strong blaze was extinguished on Thursday, the house was one of many smoking victims marked with a yellow ribbon. A burnt-out car hit the rim at the other entrance. The steep surrounding slopes are blackened and devoid of vegetation.

Many other houses were intact, and palm trees that had survived the onslaught of coal swayed at the top in a quieter wind.

Two firefighters were hospitalized, but no other casualties were reported.

The cause of the fire is being investigated, and damage checks were still ongoing on Thursday, Orange County Fire Chief Assistant T.J. McGovern said. Edison in Southern California said the unidentified electrical “activity” occurred around the time the fire broke out Wednesday night.

Electrical equipment has repeatedly been linked to some of the most catastrophic wildfires in California, especially during windy weather.

The State Utility Commission last year approved the repayment of more than half a billion dollars in fines and penalties for SoCal Edison for participating in five forest fires in 2017 and 2018.

In New Mexico, another red flag warning is expected to expire by Friday night for the first time in a week, but extremely low humidity and dry fuel will continue to provide ample opportunities for the flames to spread, officials said.

“This fire will continue to grow,” Bales, the incident’s commander, warned Thursday night.

Residents of four counties east and northeast of Santa Fe remained under various evacuation orders and notices, and firefighters expected the fire to continue on the northeast route east of Taos through less populated areas about 40 miles (64 kilometers). ) south of the Colorado Line.

With a strong spring wind throwing embers into the unburned area, the fire has increased by tens of square miles daily since April 6, when a prescribed burn designed to clear shrubs and small trees to prevent future fires has spiraled out of control. A few weeks later, the fire merged with another forest fire.

The blaze burned more than 170 homes, but authorities said the number is expected to increase significantly as more assessments are conducted and residents are allowed to return home to areas considered safe.

The fire in New Mexico covered mostly rural areas, which include a mix of scattered ranch homes, historic Spanish-speaking villages dating back centuries, and expensive summer cottages. Some of the families are engaged in animal husbandry and farmers, who from generation to generation called this area home long talked about the sacredness of the landscapewhile many others were too broken to express what they had lost.

Meli reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers John Antchak and Christopher Weber of Los Angeles, Susan Mantoya Brian of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Scott Soner of Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.

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