Crews on NM fire prepare to send copters into air

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 mid-day Sunday and was about two miles away from the privately owned ghost town of Mogollon in southwestern New Mexico.

The town was evacuated Saturday due to 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 working to build a protection line between Mogollon and the fire's western edge.

The blaze, however, destroyed a dozen homes and several outbuildings on 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 making preparations to send five helicopters into the air to focus on the blaze's hotspots.

For the last several days, high winds have prevented helicopters taking to the air. But winds of 10 to 15 mph on Sunday have prompted crews to search for water supplies for the five helicopters. Officials hoped to get the helicopters in the air later on Sunday.

"That's definitely an improvement to get those helicopters in the air to help the fire fighters on the ground," Ottaviano said.

Zero percent of the fire has been contained.

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.

Crews were battling a wildfire that has scorched at least 5,000 acres of rugged canyon land north of Paradox near the Colorado-Utah border.

Sheriff's deputies on Saturday evacuated the Buckeye Reservoir area, a popular recreation spot near the Utah border. The Rock Creek and Sinbad Valley areas also were evacuated.

Meanwhile, winds of more than 60 mph fueled a 2,325-acre fire northwest of Pagosa Springs, and several campgrounds in the area have been evacuated.

Also Sunday, a large wildfire was reported east of Pueblo near Fowler, prompting the closure of U.S. 50. The exact size of the fire wasn't immediately clear.

In California, ground crews with air support were surrounding a stubborn wildfire that has burned through 4,100 acres of grass and brush in rural San Diego County.

CalFire spokeswoman Roxanne Provaznik says the blaze near Shelter Valley is burning away from the town of Julian in steep, rocky terrain. It was 65 percent contained Sunday. No structures were threatened.

Shelter Valley is in an unincorporated area of San Diego County, 12 miles east of Julian, within the boundaries of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.