- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

SILVER CITY, N.M. (AP) - Hundreds of firefighters took advantage of cooler weather Tuesday as they tried to corral a wildfire burning in the mountains of southwestern New Mexico.

Crews were trying to build a line around the northern flank of the Signal Fire and shoring up that line to defend against any squirrely winds that might develop as a cold front makes its way through New Mexico.

The blaze has charred an estimated more than 7 square miles since being sparked Sunday. There was no containment as of Tuesday, and fire information officer Punky Moore said that might not change despite the work along the northern flank.

“They want to make pretty certain fire won’t get outside that line,” she said.

The crews on the ground were getting help from more than a dozen air tankers and helicopters. The water and retardant being dropped by the aircraft helped to slow down the flames and reduce some of the heat, allowing crews to get closer, Moore said.

The Silver City Daily Press reports (https://goo.gl/xRJ3uI ) that Silver City District Ranger Russ Ward told those gathered at a community meeting Monday night that the blaze was spotted by personnel manning the Signal Peak Lookout. It was originally one acre in size, then “in a heartbeat,” Ward said, it raced toward Signal Peak. In a few hours it had charred 2,700 acres.

Gila National Forest Fire and Aviation Staff Officer Gabe Holguin said initial attention was given to the ridge along the southern boundary of the fire to protect Pinos Altos.

Holguin said the fire was almost certainly human-caused, but the exact cause is still under investigation. “We certainly haven’t had any lightning,” he said.

This marks one of the first large fires of the season in New Mexico, a state that has been battered by drought and persistently high fire danger for the past few years. The state has experienced record-setting fire seasons during two of the last three years, and land managers are worried this summer could be another record-setter given the dry conditions.

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