New Mexico wildfire reaches record size

A wildfire which has been burning for 40 days in New Mexico has become the largest in the state’s recorded history.

Experts have suggested that the severity of the wildfire has been caused in part by climate change, which has lowered snowpack and dried out forests, while a 25-year-drought has made trees susceptible to die-off from disease and pests, they say.

The continuing fire has forced the evacuation of a small ski resort and villages in drought-hit mountains east of Santa Fe.

Driven by winds, the blaze has affected an area approaching the size of Los Angeles, destroying hundreds of homes and other properties in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

The Hermits Peak Calf Canyon fire has torched 298,060 acres (121,000 hectares), surpassing the previous largest fire, the Whitewater Baldy blaze in 2012.

The 45-mile-long conflagration began on 6 April when the US Forest Service failed to contain a so-called controlled burn designed to prevent larger wildfires. That blaze then merged with another, the cause of which is under investigation.

The fire has destroyed watersheds and forests used for centuries by Indo-Hispano farming villages for building material, firewood and irrigation.

Smoke clogged the plaza of Santa Fe as the fire burned within 20 miles (32 km) of the city of 84,000, a major tourist destination, triggering evacuations in other mountain communities on Sunday.

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