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With wildfire closing in, New Mexico residents prepare to flee

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Wildfires have been burning for weeks in the mountains above the town of Las Vegas, N.M. Its population is about 13,000.

LOUIE TRUJILLO: The west side of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range is full of smoke. It looked almost like an air show. You can still hear the planes flying over that area, dousing it with repellant and also with water.

FADEL: That's the town's mayor, Louie Trujillo, describing the view from his window at city hall.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Some families have started to evacuate their homes. Trujillo says others who live on the surrounding ranches and in canyons have lost everything.

FADEL: Crews don't have an exact tally yet of how many homes have burned. Since winds kicked up on Monday, the fire has been burning too hot and too intensely for anyone to check.

TRUJILLO: There are cattle ranches. They are just little ranch houses, old-style homes, mostly adobe, some stick-built, and of course, some mobile homes in that area.

MARTINEZ: Losing these properties is uniquely heartbreaking, he says. Some have been in the same family for generations.

TRUJILLO: It's a loss of culture. It's a loss of querencia, if you know that word in Spanish.

MARTINEZ: Yeah, there's no direct translation in English. Trujillo says querencia means a feeling people have for the land.

TRUJILLO: To us, it's really more of a spiritual belonging to the land. And it's not just a house that you buy and move on to another one and so forth. So when there's lineage and there's generations that have owned that property, so it means a lot more to people here in northern New Mexico.

FADEL: He says it's a common sentiment in this corner of New Mexico, where longtime families like his trace their ancestry back centuries.

TRUJILLO: The current proprietors of these properties were given to them by their grandpa and their tios and their tias and their, you know, bisabuelos. And their great-grandfather had this house, and now it's mine. And so you can see that it's not just a house; it means so much more.

FADEL: Eleven hundred people are working to save those homes and contain this fire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.