- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 1, 2014

COYOTE, N.M. (AP) - Crews scrambled Tuesday in search of safe locations where they could directly attack the flames of a wildfire marching through northern New Mexico’s Jemez Mountains.

The Diego Fire has charred more than 5 square miles and was threatening to grow because of extremely dry conditions and potential shifts in the wind. Forecasters warned that dry-lightning storms and erratic winds could move into the area.

Firefighters worked overnight to tie together roads on the eastern edge of the fire to create a buffer zone in preparation for Tuesday’s increased fire activity. They used bulldozers to build containment lines along the southern end and were busy scouting for more places that could be used as anchor points in their fight against the lightning-sparked blaze.

“The method of fighting this fire is full suppression, meaning they will put everything they have into doing all they can to stop the fire. Period,” fire information officer John Helmich said.

About 400 firefighters and support personnel were assigned to the blaze, and Helmich said more resources were on the way.

The blaze has sent up a large plume of smoke for the past few days, spurring health officials to issue air-quality advisories for residents in Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Albuquerque, some 80 miles to the south.

The fire is burning in mixed conifer forest with many dead or downed trees, and officials say groups of trees catch fire at a time.

On Monday, the blaze made a run to the southeast, prompting officers to go door to door to ask residents of the sparsely populated area to leave. As many as five dozen structures, including homes and barns, were considered threatened, fire officials said.

Firefighters had not contained any of the blaze by Tuesday afternoon, and residents of the mountain subdivisions of Jarosa, Weatherill Estates, Dunlap Springs and West Dunlap remained evacuated as a precaution.

Officials could not immediately say how many families were affected by the evacuations.

The fire was first reported to officials with the Santa Fe National Forest on June 25, but computer models indicate it was likely smoldering since mid-June when a wave of lightning strikes passed over the area.

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