USA and Mexico - May 23rd, 2012
Smoke from a massive blaze in the Gila National Forest, in southwestern New Mexico, has spread across the state, with health officials as far away as Albuquerque and Santa Fe warning residents to limit outdoor activity over Memorial Day weekend due to growing air-quality concerns.
Two lightning-sparked fires merged this week to form the giant Gila Wilderness blaze, which has destroyed 12 cabins and seven small outbuildings. The privately owned ghost town of Mogollon was placed under a voluntary evacuation order as firefighters worked to tame the wildfire, which has grown to 70,000 acres or nearly 110 square miles.
Strong winds pushed ash from the blaze 35 to 40 miles away, and smoke from the giant fire spread across the state and into Arizona. The haze blocked views of the Sandias in Albuquerque, and a smell of smoke permeated the air throughout northern New Mexico.
Health officials from Albuquerque to Santa Fe issued alerts for the holiday weekend, advising people to limit outdoor activities, keep windows closed and avoid swamp coolers. They said the effects on most people would be minor but noted mild throat and eye irritation or allergy-like symptoms could be expected. Officials warned people with heart and lung conditions to be especially diligent in minimizing their exposure to the smoky air.
The Gila National Forest is a protected national forest in New Mexico in the southwestern United States established in 1905. It covers approximately 3.3 million acres (5150 sq. mi., 13,000 km²) of public land, making it the sixth largest National Forest in the continental United States. Part of the area, the Gila Wilderness, was established in 1924 as the first designated wilderness by the U.S. federal government.