May 31, 2012 in Nation/World

Gila wildfire in New Mexico breaks record set last year

Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

The massive blaze in the Gila National Forest, pictured Tuesday, has burned more than 265 square miles.
(Full-size photo)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A massive wildfire that has burned more than 265 square miles in the Gila National Forest has become the largest fire in New Mexico history, fire officials confirmed Wednesday.

The erratic blaze grew overnight to more than 170,000 acres, surpassing a blaze last year that burned 156,593 acres in Los Conchas and threatened the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nation’s premier nuclear facility.

And experts say the mammoth fire may be just a preview of what’s to come in part of the western United States after months of drought and dry conditions.

The Gila forest fire also is the largest burning in the country. It formed last week when two lightning-sparked blazes merged in an isolated mountainous area in southwestern New Mexico, where it has destroyed about a dozen homes and prompted evacuations of nearby towns and health alerts for some of the state’s largest cities.

Fire information officer Jerry Perry said about 1,200 firefighters from around the state were battling the growing blaze but that they continue to face low humidity and shifting winds.

“We’re still facing adverse weather conditions that are posing a challenge,” Perry said.

The fire has not been contained, and officials worry that shifting winds and dryness related to the state’s record drought may cause the blaze to grow even more.

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