Favorable weather conditions over the weekend enabled firefighters in New Mexico to make measured, localized progress as they continue to battle what has become the largest wildfire in state history.
Since two lightning strikes ignited the Whitewater-Baldy blaze on May 16, approximately 250,000 acres have burned, far surpassing the 170,000 acres destroyed in last year’s Las Conchas Fire, which until now had been the state’s worst wildfire on record.
Despite Monday’s expected reopening of at least one evacuation zone, the U.S. Forest Service reported Sunday morning that the fire was only 17 percent contained. Battling the blaze are more than 1,200 personnel, 67 fire engines, 29 water tenders and 9 helicopters.
If there could possibly be an upside to such a massive wildfire, it would be the opportunity to test modern fire management practices. Unlike the area consumed by last year’s Las Conchas fire – which combusted with near-nuclear intensity — the Gila has been allowed to burn naturally since the 1970s, and thus far has burned with much less intensity.
Those concerned with extreme weather events due to global warming will no doubt notice that the two worst wildfires in New Mexico’s history have occurred in 2011 and 2012.