Crews make gains against western wildfires

May 29 2012 - 9:45am

Images

This photo provided by InciWeb Incident Information System shows the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire in Mogollon, N.M., a privately owned ghost town which was ordered to evacuate. Fire officials in New Mexico said Saturday, May 26, 2012, that the blaze has shrunk slightly to 82,000 acres but is still 0 percent contained because of weather conditions. (AP Photo/InciWeb Incident Information System)
Tucson firefighter Lyle Steffens, sprays water on a brush fire in midtown Tucson, Ariz., on Thursday May 24, 2012. Firefighters responded to multiple brush fires on Thursday alone, whipped-up by wind and low humidity. (AP Photo/Arizona Daily Star, Benjie Sanders)
This image provided by NASA shows smoke from New Mexico wildfires drifting across the southcentral United States. The image was acquired Thursday May 24, 2012 by NASA's MODIS satellite Aqua. Firefighters are battling a massive wildfire in southwestern New Mexico that has destroyed a dozen cabins and spread smoke across the state, prompting holiday weekend air-quality warnings. The fire burned early Saturday through remote and rugged terrain around the Gila Wilderness and has grown to 85,000 acres or more than 130 square miles. Fire officials say nearly all of the growth has come in recent days due to relentless winds. (AP Photo/NASA)
This photo provided by InciWeb Incident Information System shows the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire in Mogollon, N.M., a privately owned ghost town which was ordered to evacuate. Fire officials in New Mexico said Saturday, May 26, 2012, that the blaze has shrunk slightly to 82,000 acres but is still 0 percent contained because of weather conditions. (AP Photo/InciWeb Incident Information System)
Tucson firefighter Lyle Steffens, sprays water on a brush fire in midtown Tucson, Ariz., on Thursday May 24, 2012. Firefighters responded to multiple brush fires on Thursday alone, whipped-up by wind and low humidity. (AP Photo/Arizona Daily Star, Benjie Sanders)
This image provided by NASA shows smoke from New Mexico wildfires drifting across the southcentral United States. The image was acquired Thursday May 24, 2012 by NASA's MODIS satellite Aqua. Firefighters are battling a massive wildfire in southwestern New Mexico that has destroyed a dozen cabins and spread smoke across the state, prompting holiday weekend air-quality warnings. The fire burned early Saturday through remote and rugged terrain around the Gila Wilderness and has grown to 85,000 acres or more than 130 square miles. Fire officials say nearly all of the growth has come in recent days due to relentless winds. (AP Photo/NASA)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Crews battling a massive wildfire in southwestern New Mexico's Gila National Forest began burnout operations Monday aimed at halting the blaze from creeping into two small towns.

After growing to more than 190 square miles and becoming one of the largest fires in New Mexico history, lighter winds helped firefighters start control measures along the mountainous forest lands. Last week, strong winds forced crews to the sidelines as the fire rapidly spread in an isolated region of southwestern New Mexico, destroying a dozen homes and several in the community of Willow Creek, which remains under evacuation. No other communities were threatened.

Denise Ottaviano, a spokeswoman for the crew fighting the blaze, said since the winds slowed, the fire hasn't made a significant push toward the small, privately owned ghost town of Mogollon. However, nearby residents were forced to evacuate.

On Sunday, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez authorized the deployment of 15 National Guard soldiers to help secure areas around the fire.

The 156,593-acre Los Conchas fire last year was the state's largest in its history when it charred around 244 square miles.

Meanwhile in Arizona, officials said a wildfire that had prompted the evacuation of the historic northern Arizona mining town of Crown King is 50 percent contained.

A Prescott National Forest spokeswoman said Monday that firefighters were patrolling the Gladiator Fire's perimeter, looking for any flare-ups or hazardous fuels. They say some smoke may be visible in neighboring communities.

The 350 residents of the community, which is located 85 miles north of Phoenix, were allowed to return home last week after an initial evacuation.

The Gladiator Fire broke out May 13 inside a home and has charred almost 16,300 acres.

Colorado crews continued to battle two wildfires that had burned a combined 12 square miles by Monday.

Officials said an eight-square-mile fire near Paradox was 30 percent contained, but a smaller fire near Pagosa Springs was burning in terrain so steep and rugged that firefighters had no containment lines built.

"It's probably going to be a while before we see any containment just because the terrain is so difficult to work in," fire information officer Pam Wilson said.

Utah officials said they plan to have the Mesa Fire in southern Utah 100 percent contained by Monday afternoon.

Utah Division of Forestry spokesman Mike Melton said cool temperatures and higher humidity Sunday helped crews get the 123-acre blaze on Smith Mesa under control.

Authorities believe the fire started when a campfire got out of control Saturday afternoon and spread on private land about five miles north of the town of Virgin.

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Associated Press reporter Dan Elliot in Denver contributed to this report.

 

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