Tree ring data that dates back to the 1500s tells of the forest's fire history and the age of its trees. The perimeters of the Gila's fires along with information about their severity and vegetation mortality for the last century have also been compiled by the U.S. Forest Service.
There's also more ecological data from the federal Joint Fire Science program that can be used for comparisons.
"I think it's going to be a success story for the use of fire for managing forests," Rollins said. "It might not look like it on TV right now, but we haven't had any fatalities or dramatic housing loss like we see in Southern California or it burning so dramatically close to communities like last year's Las Conchas fire."
Experts agree that the Gila will see changes regardless of the severity of the fire. In the worst spots, aspens and other shrubs are expected to take over.
"When we're punching multi-thousand-acre holes in areas of ponderosa pine and drier mixed conifer types with no seed sources surviving, it's very difficult for those conifers to be re-established," said Craig Allen, a USGS ecologist based at Bandelier National Monument in northern New Mexico.
Fire managers are also expecting flooding. As the Las Conchas fire showed, steep denuded areas resulted in walls of water washing down canyons during the rainy season.
Residents in Glenwood are already worried about the prospect of flooding, and federal wildlife managers are concerned about what sediment and ash in the waterways could mean for the native Gila trout.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also monitoring two packs of endangered Mexican gray wolves that are situated to the north and east of the fire. Last year, wolves in Arizona were able to escape the massive Wallow fire with their pups, but it's unclear how mobile the packs in New Mexico are since their pups are much younger.
The fire is about 17 percent contained, which much of that being on the fire's northern and northwestern flanks.
On Saturday, the more than 1,200 firefighters who are battling the fire continued to build lines to corral the flames before more threatening winds and dry conditions developed.
"We're going to continue fighting this fire aggressively without putting our firefighters in danger," fire information officer Lee Bentley said. "We're getting as much of a black line as we can around this fire."
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