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Arizona wildfire poised to enter New Mexico

The Wallow fire, which already has burned more than 400,000 acres, is inching toward the Gila National Forest. 'Everything is ripe for a perfect storm,' a fire official warned.

June 12, 2011

Reporting from Reserve, N.M. — More than 1,000 firefighters converged on this village in the Gila National Forest on Saturday as a massive wildfire that scorched eastern Arizona moved to within a quarter of a mile from the New Mexico border.

With the winds picking up, temperatures rising and humidity low, the National Weather Service issued a red-flag warning for this sparsely populated corner of the state, indicating grave fire danger.

"Everything is ripe for a perfect storm," Fire Information Officer Sean Johnson said. "There's not enough hose and water to put out a fire in these conditions."

Firefighters raced to set controlled burns, designed to deny the advancing wall of flames the fuel it needs, "so we can manage the fire instead of the fire managing us," Johnson said.

The fire has forced about 10,000 people from their mountain homes and charred more than 400,000 acres of mostly pine-studded forestland in Arizona.

Although the so-called Wallow fire has not yet entered New Mexico, its smoke has hung ominously in the skies over parts of the state for days.

On Saturday, the Albuquerque Isotopes minor league baseball club, the Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate, was forced to push up its game against the Nashville Sounds by three hours to play before a new wave of smoke rolled in from the southwest.

Weather forecasts call for wind gusts of up to 35 mph in the area, with low humidity adding to the already bone-dry conditions.

The latest aerial infrared images of the fire showed it had consumed nearly 409,000 acres, or almost 639 square miles. The Rodeo-Chediski fire charred nearly 469,000 acres in 2002, making it the largest in Arizona history.

The U.S. Forest Service reports that the fire has destroyed 29 homes in eastern Arizona, including 22 in Greer, a small mountain retreat of about 200 dwellings. Five other residences were damaged and 35 nonresidential buildings have been lost.

No serious injuries have been reported.

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