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Crews make slow progress on N.M.’s largest fire

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The towering plume of smoke that has been rising each afternoon from the Gila National Forest looks daunting, but firefighters assigned to what has become the largest fire currently burning in New Mexico have been able to make some progress against the flames.

Fire officials reported Saturday that the Silver Fire is now 35 percent contained.

“The east side is holding very well, and we had a tiny bit of rain here this afternoon,” fire information officer Pamela Mathis said.

While the rain passed through quickly, any boost in cloud cover and moisture can benefit the firefighters, she said. More rain is expected today.

The Silver Fire has charred more than 196 square miles since being sparked by lightning three weeks ago. On Saturday, crews were focused on making fire lines just outside of the wilderness area on the western flank of the fire.

Fire managers were also using several helicopters for aerial firing operations aimed at reducing the fire’s intensity.

With the hot temperatures on Friday, the fire was extremely active. The plume reached 39,000 feet in elevation early in the day, and heavy smoke and cloud cover made gauging the fire’s size overnight difficult. It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that officials updated the figure by adding nearly 20,000 acres to the tally.

To the north, the Jaroso Fire has burned through more than 17 square miles of steep, rugged territory in the headwaters of the Pecos River, including portions of the Pecos Wilderness.

There’s no containment of that blaze, but crews were focused on building a line in Panchuela Creek north of Jacks Creek Campground.

Officials were hopeful higher humidity levels and cooler temperatures would help reduce fire activity.

No evacuations have been ordered in the Pecos area, but officials were warning residents that they should be ready to leave their homes if necessary. They were also warned about potential flooding if the rains develop today.

Wildfires have scorched about 270 square miles in New Mexico over the past month. Some were started by lightning, while others were sparked by downed power lines.

Numerous land management agencies have imposed fire restrictions, and cities and county governments have enacted fireworks restrictions and burn bans in an effort to limit the potential of a human-caused fire over the Fourth of July holiday.

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