By Zelie Pollon
SANTA FE, New Mexico (Reuters) - Crews battling New Mexico's largest-ever wildfire dropped from helicopters into remote terrain on Saturday to fight blazes burning in deep, rugged canyons in the mountains of the southwest.
The Whitewater-Baldy Complex blaze has consumed 227,000 acres and is only 15 percent contained, although progress has been made in spite of hot, windy conditions, Fire Information Officer Brienne Magee said.
Specialized heli-rappellers have been dropped in from helicopters, and elite "hotshot crews" called in to fight the blaze that was started by lightning on May 16.
The complexity of the fire and terrain meant many different types of crews and tools had to be employed, Magee said.
"What we're working with here is really rough and really steep. There are some areas where the most effective way to get firefighters into some places is to use helicopters and to rappel them in," Magee said.
While progress was being made, increased heat and wind in the area were complicating the effort, she said.
The firefighters dropped by helicopter extinguish isolated blazes, provide reconnaissance, and then usually hike out on their own, she said.
More than 1,200 people have been involved in fighting the fire, which has been burning through thick Ponderosa pine, spruce and mixed conifer in the Gila National Forest. Twelve homes and several outbuildings have so far been burned.
Last June, a wildfire dubbed Las Conchas burned 156,593 acres and threatened the town of Los Alamos and the national laboratory there known for its work with nuclear weapons.
On Saturday, firefighters were performing cleanup operations and shoring up fire lines in and around the old mining town of Mogollon, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
(Editing by Andrew Stern, Greg McCune and David Brunnstrom)