SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) – Firefighters gained some containment on Friday of a blaze that has torn through the mountains of southwestern New Mexico and this week became the largest wildfire in the state’s history.
The Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire has grown to 216,650 acres but is now 10 percent contained, Fire Information Officer Nancy Guerrero said.
Higher humidity levels and calmer winds allowed firefighters to begin containment efforts on Thursday for the first time since the blaze was started by lightning on May 16.
“Fire crews worked through the night, and the humidity levels were great, which allowed them to make some terrific progress,” Guerrero said.
On Wednesday, the blaze, burning in rugged terrain of the Gila National Forest, became the state’s largest in history, surpassing last year’s Las Conchas fire, said Fire Information Officer Gerry Perry. The Las Conchas fire burned 156,593 acres and threatened the town of Los Alamos and the national nuclear laboratory there.
Firefighters on Friday continued to conduct burnout operations and cut fire lines along the western and northern flanks of the fire, hoping to deny fuel to the blaze, which was still growing in all directions.
Guerrero said winds were gusting up to 17 miles an hour and there was a good chance of dry lightning and thunderstorms on the eastern side of the fire. Firefighters were on alert but remained optimistic, she said.
Nearly 1,240 firefighters are trying to contain the blaze, focusing on protecting nearby cabins, some of which are New Deal-era Historic Landmarks, first built as fire lookouts. Twelve homes and several outbuildings have been burned so far.
Communities surrounding the blaze, such as the small mining town of Mogollon, remain evacuated. Recreational trails in the Gila National Forest are closed.
(Editing by Greg McCune, Gary Hill)