PECOS, N.M. (KRQE) - Firefighters reported progress Saturday as crucial air support returned to the skies over the still-expanding forest fire burning north of Pecos.
But the fire is much bigger as winds that grounded the aircraft on Friday continue to fan the flames.
Just 48 hours after it started the Tres Lagunas Fire is now estimated to have burned more than 6,000 acres.
That estimate comes as crews finally got an infrared reading of fire overnight.
Fire bosses described Saturday as a much better day for fighting the fire 10 miles north of Pecos for two reasons: The winds have died down, and helicopters and air tankers are finally working again.
Choppers were filling up about every 30 minutes from Monastery Lake just outside of Pecos.
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About 600 people are now working the wildfire. No one has been injured, and no structures have been lost.
The fire, which jumped State Route 63 and the Pecos River on Thursday, is burning primarily to the east. Burning between Santa Fe and Las Vegas, the fire has generated smoke visible throughout the area.
And while incident commanders say having the air support makes a world of difference, they also note the fire is still burning through "powder dry" fuels.
The ground crews are going to need to make big progress now, and that's been tough.
Overnight the fire blew past a small west-side containment line leaving crews with no containment at all.
Incident commanders say they're remaining optimistic but cautious.
"Certainly that's putting some order to some chaos, and the progression of success is dependent upon all those pieces and parts working together at the same time," incident commander john Pierson said. "I feel good about that, but I'll caution everyone, feeling good doesn't mean we're successful."
Highway 63 is still closed north of Pecos, and residents along there and in the fire zone remain out of their homes. The American Red Cross has a shelter set up at Pecos high school but so far no one has used it.
Another update for community members was scheduled Saturday evening at Pecos high school auditorium with Gov. Susana Martinez and several members of her cabinet scheduled to attend.
Cow creek area residents are also being affected by this fire and are under voluntary evacuation.
Meanwhile a new fire broke out in the same forest northwest of Las Vegas at about 2 p.m. Saturday. The Calf Fire burned less than an acres in mixed conifer and ponderosa pine before being contained with the help of an air tanker dropping 5,000 gallons of retardant.
Earlier coverage Saturday:
The Tres Lagunas Fire continues to grow in the Santa Fe National Forest and is now reported to have churned through 5,300 acres of rugged timber and recreation country.
The fire between Santa Fe and Las Vegas and 10 miles north of Pecos remains zero percent contained, fire bosses reported Saturday.
A public meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday in the Pecos High School gym. Gov. Susana Martinez and several members of her cabinet are planning to attend, according to a statement from the governor's office.
Firefighting conditions improved Saturday after high winds grounded helicopters and air tankers on Friday.
"The predicted calmer winds should help crews today as they continue to work on establishing an anchor point on the west perimeter of the fire," a statement released Saturday said. "The weather should also allow airtankers and helicopters to be utilized.
"The fire will remain active but is expected to be more terrain driven rather than wind driven as seen in the last few days."
Winds on Saturday were forecast to be 5-10 mph from the south with gusts to 20 mph. However unstable air over the area could contribute to extreme fire behavior in some locations, according to the latest update.
The New Mexico Department of Health also has issued a warning from residents of Pecos, Santa Fe and Española to prepare for possibly unhealthy levels of smoke and changing weather shifts the fire plume in their directions.
More than 140 homes and cabins remain evacuated, and numerous campgrounds, fishing areas and trailheads have been closed. State Route 63 also is closed from El Macho Church north, and homes along the highway remain threatened.
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