Wind hinders firefighting efforts in New Mexico

May 26, 2012|By Dalina Castellanos

Strong gusty winds kept firefighters in southwestern New Mexico on their toes Saturday, with their fiery opponent showing no signs of containment.

Efforts to contain the blaze across more than 82,000 acres of the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire in the rugged Gila National Forest have thus far been unsuccessful, but officials were devising new strategies to protect the forest and surrounding communities, officials said.

“The strong winds are a red-flag warning. It’s a potential day of critical and extreme fire behavior,” fire information officer Cathie Schmidlin told the Los Angeles Times.

Firefighters plan to create a containment line along the north, east and west ends of the fire and begin a backfire operation to deplete any tinder and vegetation that could fuel the blaze, she said.

“Because of the steep terrain, we’re meeting the fire on our terms,” Schmidlin said.

The fire, a combination of two blazes, began with a lightning strike May 16. The fire's growth potential was considered high.

Fire incident officials reported five injuries in a news release Saturday morning.

In the nearby mining community of Mogollon, now nearly a ghost town, 15 families were forced to evacuate their homes. The fire was inching closer to an area of private land known as Willow Creek Subdivision, Schmidlin said.

Though the fire was mainly in southwestern New Mexico, the strong winds blew the smoke up to Albuquerque and parts of southern Colorado.


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