Smoke a danger in N.M. wildfire

June 3, 2012 at 9:20 AM

RESERVE, N.M., June 3 (UPI) -- Authorities warned sensitive people to stay indoors Sunday as smoke from the largest wildfire in New Mexico history engulfed the southwestern part of the state.

The Whitewater-Baldy complex of fires in the Gila National Forest has devoured more than 227,000 acres, up from 218,000 acres early Saturday, CNN reported. The fire was 17 percent contained by late Saturday, forest service officials said.

Lightning strikes are to blame for the wildfire, which began as two fires that merged. The Baldy Fire was started by a May 9 lightning strike in rugged wilderness and the Whitewater Fire was first reported May 16, forest service officials said.

Extreme drought and sustained winds of 40 to 50 mph have made fighting the fire more difficult, authorities said.

The drought could last until monsoon season in the region, which usually begins in July, said Catherine Torres, secretary of the New Mexico department of health.

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