May 16, 2022 - Energy & Environment

New Mexico Calf Canyon Fire becomes largest in state history

The Calf Canyon Wildfire seen from space on May 11, 2022.
The Calf Canyon Fire seen by a Maxar Technologies satellite on May 11. Photo: ©2022 Maxar Technologies

At 298,060 acres as of Monday morning, the Calf Canyon Fire in New Mexico is now the largest blaze in state history, surpassing the Whitewater-Baldy Fire of 2012.

Why it matters: Mired in a megadrought fueled by climate change, New Mexico and the rest of the Southwest are already experiencing major fires this year. Other western states are likely to see severe wildfire seasons due to a shorter-term drought that extends across the entire West.

Threat level: A red flag warning is in effect Monday for northeastern New Mexico, including the area in and around the wildfire, between noon and 8pm local time.

  • There is a threat of erratic winds gusting to 60 mph at times, near-record high temperatures, and dry lightning strikes that could cause further ignitions and spread the fire. Thousands have already been displaced from the blaze, including from tourism-dependent locations in Taos County.
  • For Monday, the National Weather Service is predicting "near critical" wildfire weather conditions, which will challenge firefighters as they struggle to increase containment on the fire, which stood at just 27% as of Monday morning.
  • The Calf Canyon Fire is, in fact, the largest wildfire anywhere in the U.S. so far this year.
  • The heat and low humidity levels are expected to continue throughout the week. Forecasters are also concerned about heat and high winds spreading the fire on Tuesday, with even more widespread critical fire weather for Thursday and Friday, due to the combination of dry conditions and high winds.

The big picture: The Calf Canyon Fire is the result of a combination of two fires, one of which, the Hermit's Peak Fire, was a prescribed burn set April 6 by the federal government. It escaped containment amid high winds and dry weather and eventually merged with the nearby Calf Canyon blaze.

  • New Mexico typically sees its biggest fires in May and the first part of June before the Southwest monsoon kicks in and brings more moisture into the region. This year, the fires started earlier and were larger than average for that time of year.

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