LAS VEGAS, N.M. — As rushing flames neared the remote mountains where his family has lived for generations, Miguel Martinez knew he had to move fast and flee with only the clothes on his back.
“I left behind 25 goats, 50 rabbits, 10 chickens and two dogs,” said Mr. Martinez, 71, who escaped his home in the village of El Oro this week for an evacuee shelter. “I have no idea if my house is standing or if my animals are alive. I need to prepare for the possibility everything was wiped out.”
More than a dozen wildfires are raging this month across the Southwest, as fire season stretches earlier than ever into spring. But the country’s largest active blaze, a megafire that has ballooned across more than 165,000 acres in northern New Mexico, has evolved with such ferocity that it threatens a multigenerational culture that has endured for centuries.
Like Mr. Martinez, many who have fled the megafire, known as the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak fire, are descendants of Hispanic settlers who arrived in New Mexico long before the United States came into existence. They intermarried with Native Americans, honed ways to grow crops in parched lands and preserved an archaically influenced form of Spanish that can still be heard in the aisles of the local Walmart.
1,200 years, marked by intense and unwieldy fire activity, is something new.
ranks as the second largest on record in New Mexico, eclipsing the acreage lost to fires in the entire state in 2021. While no lives have been lost, the fire has destroyed at least 172 homes, forced many families to evacuate and remains just 20 percent contained. As dry weather persists, authorities warn that the fire could expand in various directions in the coming days.