“It’s nerve-racking right now,” Mayor Ray Alborn said in a telephone interview Saturday as he watched what he described as “real heavy smoke” rise from the Sierra Blanca mountain range.
The mix of timber, dry grass and the steepness of the slopes was making the firefighting efforts more difficult. Windy conditions also were limiting what could be done from the air by helicopters and air tankers, Mr. Alborn said.
“Today all we see is smoke,” he said. “Last night, we saw the flames, too, and it was an awesome expression of power. It was red, red, and we could see it going across the top.”
Fire information officers said summer homes in a few subdivisions and several campgrounds were evacuated late Friday, and more on homes on Saturday. Roads throughout the area were closed, said forest spokeswoman Peg Crim.
The fire was burning in steep, rocky, inaccessible terrain in the White Mountain Wilderness of the Lincoln National Forest, which is home to Smokey Bear, the little black cub that became the nation’s symbol of fire prevention in the 1940s.
Rep. Stevan Pearce, New Mexico Republican, was on his way to the area Saturday to meet with fire managers. He said decades of mismanagement, forests packed full of trees and persistent drought conditions have resulted in an explosive situation.
“We just can’t keep managing our forests this way. It’s not a question of if our forests in the West are going to burn, it’s a matter of when. This is just one more demonstration of that,” he said.