nasa photo new mexico fire
May 30, 2012, a wildfire burning in Gila National Forest in southwestern New Mexico had burned more of the landscape than any other fire in the state’s history.

By OurAmazingPlanet Staff

A NASA Earth-observing satellite has snapped a photo of the huge wildfire chewing up vast swathes of southwestern New Mexico.

The Whitewater-Baldy fire, which was sparked by a lightning strike on May 16, has burned roughly 377 square miles (976 square kilometers) as of today (June 4), making it the largest wildfire in New Mexico history. NASA's Aqua spacecraft captured a view of the conflagration from space, showing vast plumes of smoke billowing over the rugged Gila National Forest near the borders with Arizona and Mexico.

Aqua took the photo on May 29 with its Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument, NASA officials said.

More than 1,000 firefighters have been battling the blaze, which remains less than 20 percent contained. The area's rugged terrain has hampered progress, as have strong winds.

Though Whitewater-Baldy is big, it currently pales in comparison to some other wildfires that have torched the continental United States. For example, last year's Wallow Fire— which spread from an unattended campfire in eastern Arizona — burned 841 square miles (2,178 square km).

The great Yellowstone fire of 1988 burned nearly three times that much land, scorching roughly 2,340 square miles (6,060 square km) across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, including much of Yellowstone National Park. And a 1910 blaze in Idaho and Montana covered about 4,700 square miles (12,173 square km), killing nearly 90 people in the process.

Before Whitewater-Baldy grew so large, New Mexico's biggest wildfire had been the Las Conchas blaze, which burned 244 square miles (632 square km) in 2011 in the northern part of the state.

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  • In this Tuesday, May 29, 2012 photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service, a firefighter walks along a burn out line as part of an effort to contain the nation's largest wildfire in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. More than 1,200 firefighters are battling the blaze that has charred 340 square miles, or 218,000 acres, of terrain in the rugged mountains and canyons of southwestern New Mexico. (AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service, Mark Pater)

  • This Tuesday, May 22, 2012, photo, provided by David Thornburg shows a plume of smoke rising from the Whitewater fire burning in the Gila Wilderness east of Glenwood, N.M. Fire managers said the blaze had charred more than 10,000 acres before merging Wednesday afternoon with the nearby 11,500-acre Baldy fire. Both fires were sparked by lightning. (AP Photo/David Thornburg)

  • This May 29, 2012 photo provided by the US Forest Service Gila National Forest shows the massive blaze in the Gila National Forest, seen from Neighbors Mountain directly east of Glenwood, N.M. Fire officials said Wednesday May 30, 2012 the wildfire has burned more than 265 square miles has become the largest fire in New Mexico history. (AP Photo/US Forest Service)

  • This image provided by NASA shows smoke from New Mexico wildfires drifting across the southcentral United States. The image was acquired Thursday May 24, 2012 by NASA's MODIS satellite Aqua. Firefighters are battling a massive wildfire in southwestern New Mexico that has destroyed a dozen cabins and spread smoke across the state, prompting holiday weekend air-quality warnings. The fire burned early Saturday through remote and rugged terrain around the Gila Wilderness and has grown to 85,000 acres or more than 130 square miles. Fire officials say nearly all of the growth has come in recent days due to relentless winds. (AP Photo/NASA)

  • In this May 22, 2012 file photo provided by David Thornburg, a plume of smoke rises from the Whitewater fire burning in the Gila Wilderness east of Glenwood, N.M. Fire officials confirmed Wednesday, May 30, 2012, that the massive wildfire, which has burned more than 265 square miles in the Gila National Forest, has become the largest fire in New Mexico history. (AP Photo/David Thornburg, File)

  • This photo provided by InciWeb Incident Information System shows the Whitewater-Baldy Complex fire in Mogollon, N.M., a privately owned ghost town which was ordered to evacuate. Fire officials in New Mexico said Saturday, May 26, 2012, that the blaze has shrunk slightly to 82,000 acres but is still 0 percent contained because of weather conditions. (AP Photo/InciWeb Incident Information System)

  • Firefighters from the Granite Mountain Hotshots of Prescott, Ariz., cut a fire line along a mountain ridge outside Mogollon, N.M., on Saturday, June 2, 2012. The crew is part of an effort to manage and contain the Whitewater-Baldy fire which has burned more than 354 square miles of the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. (AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service, Tara Ross)