Shops and restaurants reopened, the historic center was no longer just populated by firefighters, but there was a widely felt sense of anxiety, loss, and wariness of what lay ahead.
“It’s literally like living under a dark cloud,” said Liz Birmingham, whose daughter had persistent headaches from the smoke. ”It’s unnerving.” While the city for now seemed spared of danger, rural areas were still threatened and the worst could be yet to come.
A combination of strong winds, high temperatures and low humidity were forecast by the National Weather Service to create an ”exceptionally dangerous and likely historic stretch of critical to extreme fire weather conditions” for several days.
More than 1,500 people and a fleet of airplanes and helicopters worked feverishly to contain the largest fire burning in the US The blaze, now more than a month old, has blackened more than 269 square miles (696 square km) — an area larger than the city of Chicago.
Part of the fire was started by Forest Service workers who lost control of a prescribed burn meant to reduce fire risk. State leaders have called on the federal government for accountability, including reparations.
Nationwide, close to 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers) have burned so far this year, with 2018 being the last time this much fire had been reported across the country, according to the National Interagency Fire Centre. And predictions for the rest of the spring do not bode well for the West, where long-term drought and warmer temperatures brought on by climate change have combined to worsen the threat of wildfire.
Thousands of residents have evacuated due to flames that have charred large swaths of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northeastern New Mexico.
The fire’s main threat was now to the north, where flames burning vegetation clogging the forest floor threatened several small rural communities, fire spokesman Ryan Berlin said.
Firefighters, who typically rely on calmer winders and lower temperatures to make progress in the evening, have been hindered by unexpectedly strong winds at night.
The threat to Las Vegas, a city of 13,000, was reduced after vegetation was cleared to create containment lines. Local officials on Saturday allowed residents of several areas on the city’s northwestern outskirts to return to their homes, Berlin said.
The city looked like a ghost town earlier in the week, with businesses shuttered, schools closed and the tourist district empty but for resting firefighters. By Saturday, it was in a partial state of recovery.
National Guard troops carried cases of water, people lined up to sign up for relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and US Senator Martin Heinrich met with local officials and toured the shelter housing some of the displaced.
“We don’t know if our houses are getting burned, or if it’s gonna stop,” said Domingo Martinez, an evacuee from rural Manuelitas northwest of Las Vegas. “I hope it dies down so we can go home.” Martinez, who is staying with his son on the east side of town, visited an old friend and neighbor who had been living in the middle school shelter for 15 days.