ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Calm and cooler weather aided firefighters Monday trying to gain ground against a wildfire that burned 59 homes and more than 21 square miles in the central New Mexico mountains.
Isolated thunderstorms and wind gusting up to 20 mph came into the area later in the day, but "that didn't affect us at all," fire information officer Linda Kearns said.
Firefighters toiled with hand tools and bulldozers, beefing up and patrolling lines cleared around the fire, which was 55 percent contained at 13,680 acres.
Firefighters also intentionally set fires inside the lines, trying to burn out remaining fuel.
"It would be safe to say we're gaining on it," said Murt Sullivan, another fire information officer.
The human-caused fire began April 15 and has been burning mainly west of the small communities of Manzano and Torreon in the Manzano Mountains.
Hundreds of evacuees from Torreon and Tajique — just north of Torreon — were allowed to return to their homes Sunday. Homes of most of the returning evacuees were not damaged by the fire, Sullivan said.
There were 806 people assigned to the blaze along with five helicopters, 33 engines, 12 water tenders and four bulldozers. An air tanker also was available.
Most of the homes that burned were lost last Wednesday when wind gusting to 60 mph blew burning embers about three-quarters of a mile outside containment lines.
Firefighters did all they could when the blaze erupted, said Judith Dyess, another fire information officer.
But the strong winds meant aircraft couldn't fly safely and ground crews were still trying to build containment lines while struggling against the wind-blown embers and sparks themselves, she said.
"There's just nothing anybody could have done. The wind was the driver that day," Dyess said.