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Wildfire 'biggest ever in Arizona'

An enormous wildfire in eastern Arizona is poised to become the largest in state history, as firefighters tried to stop it from devouring a small mountain town in New Mexico.

Authorities were questioning two people about an abandoned campfire which may have started the blaze.

Fires also grew elsewhere in New Mexico and at the state's border with Colorado, where flames forced the closure of a busy interstate highway.

Kelly Wood, a spokesman for the multiple agencies battling the massive Arizona fire, said two people of interest were being questioned.

In Luna, New Mexico, evacuation plans were in place for the roughly 200 residents. Crews have been working to protect the town for days, hacking down brush, using chainsaws to cut trees and setting small fires to burn anything the approaching flames could use as fuel.

"That's what's saved the town," fire incident command spokesman Sean Johnson said. "The line is holding."

Fires have devoured hundreds of square miles in the South West and Texas since the wildfire season began several weeks ago. Scant winter rain in Arizona, New Mexico, part of west Texas and southern Colorado is blamed on La Nina, a term describing cooler waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean which stop the jet stream dipping down and bringing storms to the region.

The wildfire outlook issued by the National Inter-agency Fire Centre in Boise, Idaho, warns of above-normal fire potential in those areas until September, but lower than normal or normal across the rest of the West.

The huge blaze in Arizona was made worse by the extremely thick forest, the result of a century of fire suppression which has let more trees grow in the world's largest ponderosa pine forest. Fires which once scorched only grasses and small trees on the forest floor now reach into the crowns and skip across miles of terrain through the treetops. Forests across the West have similar problems.

The Arizona fire has burned more than 733 square miles since May 29 and destroyed 32 homes and four rental cabins. It was 20% contained as of Tuesday night, Mr Johnson said.

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