SAN LORENZO, N.M. (AP) — A blaze burning in southern New Mexico was expected to grow again Saturday, a day after it made a run that c onsumed nearly 19 square miles of rugged terrain in the Gila National Forest.
The Silver Fire has charred more than 88 square miles since being sparked by lightning on June 7. Almost 500 firefighters and support personnel were assigned to the fire.
Crews braced for a hot, dry and windy day as weather forecasters issued another red flag warning for the area on Saturday. Humidity levels were extremely low and winds were likely to gust to 30 mph.
Fire information officer Larry Helmerick said firefighters were focused on building indirect line on the northeastern and northwestern flanks of the fire in hopes of corralling it as it burns to the north. Any direct attack has been limited due to the weather and terrain.
“If we can go direct, we will. But what we’re trying to do now is keep it away from populated areas, which we’ve managed to be successful at, and to try to keep it in kind of a box,” he said.
As of Saturday, the blaze was 20 percent contained and not threatening any homes or other structures.
Residents of the tiny historic mining town of Kingston were allowed to return home Thursday after they were forced to evacuate for 10 days. The fire had raced toward the town, but structure protection put in place by crews helped to save the community.
To the north, crews continued to mop up after fires that had charred dozens of square miles of the Santa Fe National Forest, including a portion of the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
A recovery team assigned to the Thompson Ridge Fire reported this week that nearly three-quarters of the 37 square miles included in the fire’s boundary burned at low severity or not at all. The rest saw moderate to high-intensity burning.
From Thompson Ridge, the Tres Lagunas Fire north of Pecos and on the Gila National Forest, the recovery teams are already preparing for summer rains and the effects they could have on the burned areas. This week, Gov. Susana Martinez declared an emergency to free up state funds for post-fire recovery work aimed at curbing the threat of flooding.
The wildfires and extreme fire danger across New Mexico have also resulted in closures of forests and some state parks. Starting Monday, the Santa Fe National Forest will be shutting down, following the lead of the Sandia and Manzano ranger districts on the Cibola National Forest, which borders the state’s most populated area.
“With the current fires and new fires reported daily, we cannot afford to take the added risk of human-caused wildfires,” Santa Fe Forest Supervisor Maria Garcia said.