1,200 firefighters battle record New Mexico blaze

This Tuesday, May 22, 2012, photo, provided by David Thornburg shows a plume of smoke rising from the Whitewater fire burning in the Gila Wilderness east of Glenwood, N.M. Fire managers said the blaze had charred more than 10,000 acres before merging Wednesday afternoon with the nearby 11,500-acre Baldy fire. Both fires were sparked by lightning. (AP Photo/David Thornburg)

This Tuesday, May 22, 2012, photo, provided by David Thornburg shows a plume of smoke rising from the Whitewater fire burning in the Gila Wilderness east of Glenwood, N.M. Fire managers said the blaze had charred more than 10,000 acres before merging Wednesday afternoon with the nearby 11,500-acre Baldy fire. Both fires were sparked by lightning. (AP Photo/David Thornburg)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- The more than 1,200 firefighters who are battling the nation's largest wildfire in rugged mountains and canyons of southwestern New Mexico are racing to build lines to corral the massive blaze.

The fire had charred more than 354 square miles by Saturday morning, and crews were bracing for more dry and windy conditions.

Fire information officer Lee Bentley says the focus is on the western edge of the Whitewater-Baldy fire.

The fire is expected to start backing down the mountains east of the community of Glenwood, and officials say residents should expect to see more smoke and flames as firefighters continue their backburn operations.

Bentley says gusts could reach close to 30 mph Saturday, resulting in active to extreme fire behavior.

The fire is about 15 percent contained.

It has charred 227,000 acres of the Gila National Forest and a dozen cabins and several outbuildings have been destroyed.


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