1,200 Firefighters Tackle Record-Breaking US Blaze

Over 1,200 firefighters battling New Mexico's largest wildfire in history rappelled from helicopters Saturday to extinguish blazes in rugged mountains and canyons, authorities said.

A firefighter works an area along the northwest perimeter of a massive blaze in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico in this photo made on Wednesday, May 30, 2012, and released by the U.S. Forest Service Friday. More than 1,200 firefighters are battling the fire that has burned nearly 217,000 acres in an isolated mountainous area of southwestern New Mexico.

Over 1,200 firefighters battling New Mexico's largest wildfire in history rappelled from helicopters Saturday to extinguish blazes in rugged mountains and canyons, authorities said.

The Whitewater-Baldy Complex blaze has burned through 227,000 acres (92,000 hectares) and is only 15 percent contained, although "substantial progress" has been made as firefighters race to extinguish the massive fire ahead of more hot and windy conditions, according to officials.

Thunderstorms and dry lightning forecast for southwestern New Mexico threatened to accelerate the disaster after the fire consumed vegetation such as timber, mixed conifer, Ponderosa pine, pinon pine, juniper and grass fuels in the Gila National Forest.

Lightning sparked the blaze on May 16.

Thick smoke columns have forced people to stay inside, local media reported.

"Because of the complexity of this fire, fire managers have brought in specialized resources. One of those resources includes heli-rappellers," the interagency New Mexico Fire Information website said in a posting.

"The 'rappellers' will rappel from a helicopter into remote locations and extinguish fires or provide reconnaissance information."

The heli-rappellers help put out the fire in rugged terrain lacking a good landing zone.

Some 1,257 personnel are involved in the firefighting effort, along with 64 fire engines, 28 water tenders, seven dozers and 10 helicopters, according to New Mexico Fire Information.

The blaze has already surpassed New Mexico's last record-breaking fire, the Las Conchas wildfire, which burned through over 156,000 acres (63,130 hectares) and threatened the Los Alamos National Laboratory known for its work on nuclear weapons.