GLENWOOD, N.M.: Crews fighting a wildfire in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico benefited from lighter winds Sunday, allowing them to focus on building protection lines on key flanks of the blaze and preparing to send water-dropping helicopters into the air for the first time in several days.
The Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire continued to grow, burning more than 122,000 acres, or 191 square miles, by midday Sunday. It was about two miles away from the privately owned ghost town of Mogollon in southwestern New Mexico.
The town was evacuated Saturday because of extreme winds, but no homes there have been destroyed.
Denise Ottaviano, a spokeswoman for the crew fighting the blaze, said the fire remains active near Mogollon, but the blaze hasn’t made a significant push toward the town. Crews were building a protection line between Mogollon and the fire’s western edge.
However, the blaze destroyed a dozen homes and several other buildings Wednesday in the community of Willow Creek, which remains under evacuation. Officials say crews were taking measures to protect homes in Willow Creek. No other communities were threatened.
On Sunday, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez authorized the deployment of 15 National Guard soldiers to help secure areas around the fire.
Meanwhile, crews were building protection lines on the fire’s western and northern edges and preparing to send five helicopters into the air to focus on the blaze’s hot spots.
For the last several days, high winds have kept helicopters on the ground. But winds of 10 to 15 mph on Sunday prompted crews to search for water supplies for the five helicopters.
“That’s definitely an improvement to get those helicopters in the air to help the fire fighters on the ground,” Ottaviano said.
Despite tamer winds, crews were still contending with extremely dry conditions and are expecting a decrease in humidity.
State officials had warned residents during the Memorial Day weekend to limit outdoor activities, especially if smoke was visible.
In western Colorado, gusty winds have spread two wildfires that have burned more than 7,000 acres and prompted the evacuation of several campgrounds.
Michigan still burning
Elsewhere, rain and four more aircraft helped Michigan authorities in their attempts to contain a wildfire that has consumed 31.6 square miles of Upper Peninsula forest and destroyed at least 61 buildings, an official said Sunday.
About 230 crew members — 40 of them involved in aerial operations — were fighting the fire in the eastern part of sparsely populated upper Michigan.