At least 1 dead in New Mexico wildfire that forced thousands to flee

AP , Wednesday 19 Jun 2024

Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled a mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings, and killed at least one person. Officials warned the danger isn't over.

wildfire
The Salt Fire burning in Ruidoso, New Mexico, as seen from the White Mountain Sports Complex June 2024. AFP

 

 

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency that covers Ruidoso and neighboring tribal lands and deployed National Guard troops to the area. A top-level fire management team is expected to take over Wednesday, and winds will continue to challenge crews, officials said.

The governor's office confirmed the fatality but said it had no other details.

More than 500 structures have been destroyed or damaged, but it’s unclear how many were homes. A flyover to provide more accurate mapping and a better assessment of damage was planned Tuesday night, Lujan Grisham said.

“It will really allow us to see inside the fire in a way that we cannot do now because it is too dangerous to be in the heart of the fire,” she said.

The emergency declaration frees up funding and resources to manage the crisis in Lincoln County and the Mescalero Apache Reservation. Lujan Grisham said two fires have together consumed more than 31 square miles (80 square kilometers).

Other than the one fatality, no one has been seriously injured, she said.

Nationwide, wildfires have scorched more than 3,280 square miles (8,495 square kilometers) this year — a figure higher than the 10-year averages, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. About 20 wildfires currently burning are considered large and uncontained, including blazes in California and Washington state.

On Tuesday, two wildfires menaced Ruidoso, a high-altitude vacation getaway nestled within the Lincoln National Forest with a casino, golf course and ski resort operated by the Mescalero Apache Tribe nearby. What caused the blazes hasn’t been determined, but the Southwest Coordination Center listed them as human-caused.

New Mexico has grappled in recent years with a devastating series of wildfires, including a 2022 blaze caused by a pair of prescribed fires set by the U.S. Forest Service that merged during drought conditions to become the largest wildfire in the state’s recorded history. That year, a separate fire consumed 200 homes in Ruidoso and resulted in two deaths.

This week, Ruidoso officials didn’t mince words as smoke darkened the evening sky Monday and 100-foot (30-meter) flames climbed a ridgeline: “GO NOW: Do not attempt to gather belongings or protect your home. Evacuate immediately.”

Public Service Company of New Mexico shut off power to part of the village due to wildfire. The Ruidoso Downs that hosts horse races and the Lincoln Medical Center were evacuated later Tuesday.

Animals and livestock were moved to the state fairgrounds in Roswell, including five horses that arrived Monday night, as well as four llamas, according to Leslie Robertson, the office manager. Robertson said 30 more horses were headed her way Tuesday evening.

Both the South Fork Fire and the smaller Salt Fire started on the Mescalero Apache Reservation where the tribe's president declared a state of emergency.

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