With rakes and bulldozers, New Mexico battles 'beast' wildfire

By Andrew Hay

PLACITA, N.M. (Reuters) - Raking up dead grass and bulldozing a 20-mile-long fuel break, locals and fire crews in New Mexico on Wednesday fought to stop the devastating march northward of the largest active U.S. wildfire.

Under the plume of a blaze that has torched up to 1,500 properties, Christine Gonzalez piled weeds in her wheelbarrow to stop "spot fires" should embers land around her mountain home in Placita, about 40 miles northeast of Santa Fe.

"Climate change is very real here," said Gonzalez, 61, a retired budget manager from Los Alamos National Laboratory, as smoke rose thousands of feet above nearby Jicarita Peak.

In forests eight miles north, crews worked to clear a 300-foot-wide fire break along a ridge system by Saturday to protect Taos and Angel Fire should other firefighting actions fail. The blaze was around 15 miles from the two resort towns.

"We need to anticipate a bad outcome, we need to anticipate fire growth will mimic some of what we've seen over the last several weeks," operations chief Jayson Coil told a briefing.