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Cooler weather helps firefighters battling New Mexico blaze

This satellite image shows the active fire lines of the Hermits Peak wildfire, in Las Vegas, N.M., on May 11. Wildfire in the West is on a furious pace early this year. Wind-driven flames tearing through vegetation that is extraordinarily dry from years-long drought exacerbated by climate change has made even small blazes a threat to life and property. (Satellite image Maxar Technologies via AP)

MORA, N.M. – Firefighters in New Mexico who are battling the nation’s largest active wildfire said Monday that cooler weather helped them prevent the blaze from growing as nearly 3,000 firefighters worked to strengthen and increase their firebreaks.

The blaze that started nearly seven weeks ago in the Rocky Mountains foothills remained just 40% contained Monday. Fire crews were helped over the weekend by water-dropping helicopters and aircraft and cooler temperatures but warmer weather was expected Monday.

The blaze started as two fires and burned into one large conflagration. Flames have consumed more than that 484 square miles of timber, grassland and brush and evacuations have been place for weeks.

The fire is among five active large fires in the state and among 14 nationally, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

The New Mexico fire accounts for nearly 60% of the 536 square miles consumed by wildfires in the U.S. so far this year.

Wildfires have broken out this spring in multiple states in the western U.S., where climate change and an enduring drought are fanning the frequency and intensity of forest and grassland fires. The number of square miles burned so far this year is far above the 10-year national average.