Nightly News | June 01, 2012
>>> now to the west, where it is still early in the wildfire season, but it's already a bad one with major fires burning in arizona, colorado, utah, and new mexico, all areas that got almost no appreciable rain or snow over the winter. the biggest fire is burning in the gila national forest in new mexico and so huge and hard to fight, it may not burn out for weeks.
>> reporter: from the air, thick smoke stretches for miles, the largest wildfire in the country, the biggest in the history of new mexico , is tonight on the move in all directions, raging out of control.
>> tree coming down!
>> reporter: sparked by a lightning strike two weeks ago, now clearly visible from space, the white january water-baldy fire consumed more than 200,000 acres. the burn zone is roughly 340 square miles , the size of new york city .
>> it's going to get hotter and drier and the lower humidity will make the columns, the fires stand up and make the big fire columns.
>> reporter: officials closed the gila national monument due to smoke generated from the fire, smoke now spreading over population centers. hospitals like this one in albuquerque are on high alert.
>> patients who have chronic lung diseases , chronic heart disease , the elderly and infants are all at risk.
>> reporter: in what feels like triple-digit heat, 1,200 firefighters are battling the blaze in difficult terrain, setting backfires, fighting fire with fire .
>> we'll put our fire on the ground t will meet that fire and keep it away from this side so it won't jump this road and continue on.
>> reporter: across the west, fire officials say bone dry conditions and low humidity are a recipe for a destructive fire season.
>> as we gear up towards the peak of fire season, we are looking for vegetation conditions that are very conducive to large and damaging fires.
>> reporter: lester, here in albuquerque, you can smell this fire burning some 240 miles away . one of the big concerns here is going to be air quality . health officials are worried it's only going to get worse. meantime the fire is 10% contain contained. the bad news, it shows no signs of slowing down. lester?