New Mexico’s Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire, burning in the Gila National Forest, has now become the state’s largest in history, and is also the largest one currently burning in the U.S.
Fire officials confirmed on Wednesday that the blaze grew erratically overnight to over 170,000 acres, surpassing last year’s 156,593 acre blaze in Los Conchas, which threatened the nation’s premier nuclear facility, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, according to The Washington Post.
The blaze was formed last week after two lightning-sparked fires, which had been burning for about two weeks, merged together in an isolated mountainous area. The combined fire has destroyed at least a dozen homes, and also prompted nearby evacuations and health alerts for the state’s biggest cities.
The Wall Street Journal reports that fire information officer Jerry Perry stated around 1,200 firefighters are currently battling the rapidly growing blaze, but that they face a tough opponent with low humidity and shifting winds. Perry stated:
“We still facing adverse weather conditions that are posing a challenge. We’re doing a lot of burnout operations and yesterday we had to deal with a lot of spot fires.”
Democratic New Mexico senator Jeff Bingaman, announced on Tuesday that FEMA approved the state’s request for a fire management assistance declaration, according to The Washington Post. Under the new declaration, the state is now eligible to receive funding from the Fire Management Assistance Grant Program, which will provide for the “mitigation, management, and control” of fires burning in the state.
The Washington Post reports that Governor Susana Martinez also urged small business affected by the fire on Tuesday to apply for a low-interest Small Business Administration loan, which could become an option, if enough applicants seek the help. Martinez stated that:
“As a result of this fire, small businesses are unquestionably feeling the impact, and I want to make sure that these businesses and their surrounding communities can take advantage of any assistance possible.”