ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A furious wildfire torching through the mountains of southern New Mexico's Gila National Forest has grown to 127 square miles, forcing some ranchers to ship their cattle out of state as the blaze burns through entire grazing areas.
The Silver Fire was still about 5 miles west of the nearest community, but it has left ranchers in this drought-stricken corner of the state with few choices for feeding their cattle. State agriculture officials said the combination of drought and fire has forced some ranchers to ship what remaining cattle they have to other areas, including South Texas.
"There are poor range conditions statewide," said Les Owen, a range resource specialist with the New Mexico Department of Agriculture. "Finding grass that doesn't have some cattle on it or some areas of rangeland that haven't been destocked because there's just no grass left is nearly impossible in New Mexico."
Agriculture officials have reached out to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in an effort to find public or even private land where any displaced ranchers might be able to graze their cattle while the Silver Fire continues to eat up parts of the Gila forest.
While forest officials had already limited the number of cattle allowed on the Gila this year due to the dry conditions, at least 150 cattle were forced from one allotment due to the fire.
There have been no reports of livestock lost, officials said.
In all, wildfires have burned more than 192 square miles around New Mexico over the last month, and managers assigned to the Silver Fire expected that blaze — the largest currently burning in the state — to continue marching north and west.
By Tuesday afternoon, the fire was 20 percent contained and no structures had been burned.
"They've done a very good job to the south," fire information officer Rob Deyerberg said. "They're continuing to herd it to the north and look for opportunities for containment. But with that very difficult terrain plus the challenges of the weather, there's been no opportunity to establish line up there."
Deyerberg said firefighters were looking for places where they could use the topography and forest fuels to their advantage.
In northern New Mexico, the lightning-sparked Jaroso Fire was burning in the rugged, steep canyons of the Pecos Wilderness. The plume of smoke could be seen over the last two days from as far south as Albuquerque.
The fire has burned through more than 12 square miles of bug-killed trees and an area where a 2007 wind event blew down thousands of trees, leaving them piled one on top of each other like toothpicks.
Firefighters have not been able to directly attack the flames because of the dangerous conditions, managers said.
The fire was about 10 miles from the communities of Pecos and Truchas. Officials have not called for any evacuations.
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