New Mexico fire balloons to 19 square miles

Hundreds of people have evacuated to escape a wildfire in coastal Southern California and a larger blaze in rural New Mexico as hot weather feeds the flames, raising health concerns in other regions, officials said on Thursday.

The fire's progress toward Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside was halted about a quarter-mile short of so-called trigger points that would prompt evacuations, but officials say the fire remains a danger.

Officials said winds on Thursday had slowed from Wednesday, when the fire broke out and grew quickly.

The fire has been dubbed the "Dog Head Fire" and is located in the Cibola National Forest and National Grasslands.

Fire information officer Denise Ottaviano said Thursday that several air tankers and helicopters are working the blaze in the Manzano Mountains, but there's still zero containment.

The chaparral was "very dry, very dead-on-the-ground fuel for the fire", said Gina DePinto, communications manager for Santa Barbara County.

Gov. Susana Martinez declared a state of emergency hours before residents in Chilili, Mercid, Escobosa and Yrisarri were forced to leave their homes Wednesday.

Evacuation centers have been set up in Estancia, at the Torrance County Fairgrounds (for residents, pets, and livestock), and in Tijeras at the Los Vecinos Community Center for evacuees.

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Wolfe says winds diminished overnight, helping firefighters who are burning areas ahead of the fire to deprive it of fuel Thursday.

"There's not many structures in front of that direction if it goes where we think it's going", he said.

Authorities in east-central Arizona's White Mountains are sending mixed messages on whether visitors should avoid the area because of a wildfire threatening several communities.

Fire officials say it's spreading fast and the smoke is making it hard to determine the exact size.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

The community was among those placed under a mandatory evacuation Wednesday night as the flames marched northeast. The National Weather Service has posted a red flag high wind warning for all day today in the East Mountains near the fire and just north of it.

Fire behavior will be less active this morning than the past two days due to the lighter winds but will become more active during the afternoon.



  • Lola Watson