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New Mexico fire grows, is expected to set state record today

May 29, 2012|By Dalina Castellanos

The Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire in New Mexico is close to searing itself into the history books. As of Tuesday morning, the fire was about 5,000 acres away from a record as the state's largest wildfire -- and it was still growing.  

The fire has burned 152,012 acres of the vast, 3.3 million-acre Gila National Forest. The state's previous wildfire record was set last summer, when the Las Conchas fire ravaged 156,593 acres in the northern part of the state.

Fire officials expect the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire to break the record by the end of the day, with the help of harsh weather and an abundance of flammable fuel, Fire Information Officer Arlene Perea told the Los Angeles Times.

“The area has been in extreme drought the last couple of years,” Perea said. “The drought and weather dry out grasses and contribute to the fuel.”

More than 1,110 people are fighting the lightning-sparked fire -- trying to lay down containment lines and burning out any kindling that might aid in the fire's growth.

The rugged terrain, marked with piñon trees and junipers, is making it difficult for firefighters to do their work. Five minor injuries have been reported.

Overall, however, crews are hopeful.

“We’ve had a break in the weather the last few days,” Perea said. “It’s making it easier for us to [prepare] containment lines and take the punch out of any fire runs that might establish themselves.”

The blaze is currently the biggest in the United States, Perea said, and it’s taking up many of the resources needed by other states coping with fires.

“We have air tankers, hot shot crews and engines. Our crews are from all over the country and different agencies including the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service,” Perea said.

“If fires spark in other states, we would need to assess the situation and figure out which resources we can send out, if any.”

The fire has destroyed 12 structures in the Willow Creek Subdivision, most of which were cabin-like summer homes, Mark Chavez, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service told The Times.

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dalina.castellanos@latimes.com

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