- (Photo: Reuters/USFS/Andrea Martinez)
The growth potential for the largest wildfire in New Mexico's history, which has devoured more than 227,000 acres, remained high early Sunday as the blaze was advancing across the wilderness in the southwest portion of the state.
More than 1,200 personnel were fighting the wildfire, which was just 17 percent contained late Saturday, CNN quoted forest service officials as saying.
Authorities warned sensitive people to stay indoors as smoke from the fire engulfed the region.
The New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management said an evacuation order for the summer cabins of Willow Creek remained in effect. At least 12 seasonal homes in the Willow Creek area were destroyed, according to krqe.com.
But the Catron County Sheriff Department said it would allow evacuated residents back into the community of Mogollon, effective Monday.
Officials blame the fire on two separate lightning strikes that started two wildfires in the Gila National Forest and later merged May 23 and were enhanced by drought and sustained winds of 40 mph to 50 mph.
The Baldy Fire was started by a May 9 lightning strike and the Whitewater Fire was reported May 16.
Smoke in the region could remain until the monsoon season, which usually begins in early July, according to the office of New Mexico Department of Health.
"Because of the complexity of this fire, fire managers have brought in specialized resources," the Forest Service said. "One of those resources includes heli-rappellers. Heli-rappellers are one of the aerial resources brought in during early stages of a remote fire, especially where there is no good landing zone. The 'rappellers' will rappel from a helicopter into remote locations and extinguish fires or provide reconnaissance information."