Nightly News   |  June 12, 2011

Monster fire jumps border into New Mexico

Half a million acres have burned in Arizona, and now the fire's crossed into New Mexico. But with help from above, firefighters think they've finally "turned a corner." NBC's Tom Llamas reports.

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>>> in arizona , still a long way to go before that huge wildfire is brought under control. while some progress is being made, the fire has spread to neighboring new mexico and is also causing anxiety there. the scope of this fire is seen in this satellite image. nbc's tom llamas has more tonight from springerville, arizona .

>> reporter: good evening, lester. earlier this week this was a ghost town . the entire town was evacuated. as you can see behind me, traffic has returned and that evacuation order has been lifted. but as one arizona community returns, others are still in limbo while residents in new mexico watch that wildfire move dangerously close . dealing with nearly half a million blackened acres across arizona , firefighters are now battling a monster fire in two states. the wallow wildfire jumped the border this weekend, now burning parts of new mexico . with a fire this size, a dc-10 comes in handy. the massive aircraft can drop a fire retardant 100 feet wide, a mile long. the help from above is appreciated by troops on the ground.

>> it is very, very physical work. absolutely these folks are tired.

>> reporter: the hard work has paid off. incident commanders feel controlled burns in the north and east have given them the upper hand.

>> we turned a corner. we feel a lot more confident than we did two days ago.

>> the evacuation has been lifted.

>> reporter: thousands of residents from three arizona towns were allowed to return home sunday after being forced to evacuate.

>> we had to make a choice. either make a stand here or in town.

>> reporter: rancher jerry left but his animals stayed. his friends dropping off their animals. he says his ranch turned into a zoo. but the flames never got close.

>> we're just so thankful that they were able to get in there and do what they did and save everything.

>> reporter: the evacuation ban may be lifted for some, but emergency management officials recommend residents stay away because of health hazards caused by the smoke.

>> i don't want to come back here until the smoke's cleared out of here.

>> reporter: in new mexico , some residents near the border have evacuated out of caution. one of the big concerns in that state, two powerlines not far from the fire. customers have been warned of rolling blackouts , but fire officials are hopeful.

>> right now we've mitigated those. at this point i don't see any threat.

>> reporter: tonight fire officials tell me if the winds don't suddenly shift and come up from the south, they could have more than 6% of this fire contained by tomorrow. getting closer to a point where they can steer this fire away from homes and not have the fire steer them. lester?

>> tom llamas, thank you.