‘Our mountains are gone’: grief as New Mexico’s sacred forests burn

ANGOSTURA, NM, May 9 (Reuters) – The forests of Ella Arellano’s family for nine generations burned in a day on Monday as high winds pushed the largest wildfire in the United States through a valley in the New Mexico to a third county.

Arellano sat in an evacuation center in Peñasco on Monday and mourned the loss of forested mountainsides around her home in Holman after the fire crossed the Mora Valley about 64 km northeast of the state capital, Santa Fe.

“I am from the land,” said Arellano, a “town hall” in charge of irrigation canals called “acequias,” wiping away tears. “Our mountains are gone and it’s still burning.”

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The so-called Hermits Peak Calf Canyon fire, larger than the city of Chicago, has been contained to the east but is moving north through land that holds deep religious significance for the Indo-Hispano villages established there two centuries ago.

Approximately 35 miles long, the blaze destroyed hundreds of homes and other structures and triggered evacuation orders for 12,000 homes in San Miguel and Mora counties.

After more than a month of wildfires, Taos County residents were told for the first time Monday to prepare to evacuate as the blaze progressed to the villages of Angostura and Tres Ritos as well as the Sipapu ski area about 15 miles south of town. from Taos.

Winds of up to 66mph sent a rancher jumping as he hosed down his Angostura home in anticipation of embers flying more than a mile from the blaze.

He was in shock when a fire started 20 miles away when a US Forest Service-controlled burn spun out of control on April 6 and burned less than 5 miles away.

A few miles down the road from Tres Ritos, ski area employees emptied belongings from a storage unit in anticipation of a fire they believed to be imminent.

“They’ve been fighting it for a month in the wild, they can’t stop it,” said Greg Payne, facility maintenance manager at Sipapu Ski Area two miles down the valley.

The fire has burned 189,767 acres (76,890 hectares) and is 43% contained.

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Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Donna Bryson and Stephen Coates

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