Record-setting NM fire expected to burn for weeks

By Susan Montoya Bryan

Associated Press

Published: Friday, June 1 2012 4:10 a.m. MDT

"This year, it did get across," Montoya said. "We're getting humidity levels during the day about 2 to 3 percent. Normally, during summer you'd see 5 to 12 percent."

Officials closed the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument on Thursday due to smoke generated from the fire. The National Park Service said the closure would remain in effect until conditions improve.

The blaze is 5 percent contained, but fire managers expect that to jump as crews bolstered lines on the northern end. Scars from previous burns were also helping to slow the flames on the southeastern flank.

"We're continuing with burnout operations and we've been helped with a slight rise in humidity and decreased winds," Estes said.

Another reason states in the West will see more massive fires this season is because, coupled with drought and dry climate, crews have experienced changes in firefighting strategies and agencies have changed some policies in fighting wildfires in isolated areas, Pyne said.

"In the last 20 years or so, agencies have generally been reluctant to put firefighters at risk in remote areas," Pyne said. "It wasn't like that decades ago."

Instead, he said agencies have focused attention on burnout operations until conditions are safe to begin containment.

Not that those practices and the large fires are bad things, Pyne said. For example, he said the Gila Wilderness has been a target for controlled burns.

"So maybe," Pyne said, "this is how it's supposed to happen."

Contreras reported from Albuquerque. Contact Susan Montoya at http://www.twitter.com/susanmbryanNM and Russell Contreras at http://twitter.com/russcontreras .

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