Evacuation order to be lifted in NM ghost town

Associated Press
In this Saturday, June 2, 2012 photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, a large cloud of smoke rises from a fire in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. The Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire has scorched more than 377 square miles. (AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service, Kari Greer)
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Residents and business owners will be allowed to return to the small privately run ghost town of Mogollon on Monday as fire crews battling the largest wildfire in New Mexico's recorded history continued to make progress.

The town was evacuated on May 26 as extreme wind fueled the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire, now at 377 square miles.

The Catron County Sheriff's Office decided to lift the evacuation order on Monday because crews were able to build some containment lines on the fire's western flank, Tara Ross, a spokeswoman for crews fighting the fire, said Sunday.

The ghost town will open to the public again on Wednesday.

Ross said that milder weather on Sunday and in upcoming days should allow firefighters to increase containment.

"It isn't getting any worse at this point," Ross said. "The weather's kind of keeping it in check.

The community of Willow Creek on the fire's northern flank remained evacuated because Ross said containment lines in the area weren't as strong.

Although the more than 1,200 firefighters on the blaze were making progress, the fire remained 17 percent contained Sunday, and there is no projection for when it may be fully under control.

The Whitewater-Baldy fire has destroyed a dozen cabins while burning in the Gila National Forest. A pair of lightning-sparked fires grew together to form the massive blaze.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is monitoring two packs of endangered Mexican gray wolves that are situated to the north and east of the fire. Last year, wolves in Arizona were able to escape the massive Wallow fire with their pups, but it's unclear how mobile the packs in New Mexico are since their pups are much younger.

Authorities also are concerned about flooding that will come in the fire's aftermath because of the denuded landscape, and federal wildlife managers are concerned about what sediment and ash in the waterways could mean for the native Gila trout.

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