(Photo: Reuters/Joshua Lott)
Officials in New Mexico have warned residents that there is a risk of potentially hazardous air quality in the region as smoke continues to billow out of the Wallow fire that has hit eastern Arizona over the past weeks.
The fire, which now has spread across 672-square miles, officially crossed the state line late on Friday evening.
Residents from the border all the way through to Albuquerque and Santa Fe have been warned that they face serious respiratory hazards from the thick smoke engulfing the nearby areas.
Those with asthma and other lung and heart disease issues have been told to take extra precautions. Children, pregnant women and seniors have also been advised to be cautious.
A spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Health, Chris Minnick said, “ Your eyes are your best tools to determine if it's safe to be outside.”
As winds picked up again on Saturday afternoon, the fire has once again picked up pace and ferocity. The air quality in eastern Arizona was recorded as nearly 20 times the federal health standard limit, according to AP.
Residents have been told to pay close attention to conditions outside. Minnick said, “Just because you can't see the fire doesn't mean there isn't an effect from the smoke blowing into the state.”
Speaking to AP, Matt Howell, who was part of the fire crew attempting to protect the mountain town of Greer, reported the difficulty of operating in such thick smoke. He said, “You get in there and it's hard to breathe. You start coughing, can't get that good nice breath of air.”
More than 3,200 firefighters have been drafted in to try and battle the blaze, however, by Saturday evening the fire was still only around five percent contained.
Residents in Springerville and Eager have been told they may be allowed back to their homes in the near future. However, the air quality was being monitored to gauge when it would be safe to allow them to return.
The current Wallow fire is still currently the second-largest in Arizona history, although many commentators believe it will eclipse the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire. That 2002 fire, however, destroyed 491 buildings, where as the current Wallow fire has so far managed to destroy only 31 homes or cabins.