Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

RUIDOSO, N.M. — Rainy conditions were helping more than 1,000 firefighters gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico on Saturday that have killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee.

Firefighters using bulldozers were digging protective lines and hand crews used shovels in more rugged terrain to battle the fires near the mountain village of Ruidoso. The South Fork Fire, which reached 26 square miles (67 square kilometers), was 26% contained, while the Salt Fire, at 12 square miles (31 square kilometers), was 7% contained as of Saturday morning, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

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Full containment was not expected until July 15, per the agency.

The wildfires destroyed or damaged an estimated 1,400 structures. Other fallout from the fires — including downed power lines, damaged water, sewer and gas lines, flooding in burn scars — continued “to pose risks to firefighters and the public,” according to a Saturday update from the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

Evacuations in areas near Ruidoso and road closures were still in effect. In Ruidoso, full-time residents will be allowed to return Monday, though everyday life won’t return to normal.

“You’re going to need to bring a week’s worth of food, you’re going to need to bring drinking water,” Mayor Lynn Crawford said on Facebook.

Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham were scheduled to tour the disaster area Saturday.

President Joe Biden issued a disaster declaration for parts of southern New Mexico on Thursday, freeing up funding and more resources to help with recovery efforts including temporary housing, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property and other emergency work in Lincoln County and on lands belonging to the Mescalero Apache Tribe.

Much of the Southwest has been exceedingly dry and hot in recent months. Those conditions, along with strong wind, whipped the flames out of control, rapidly advancing the South Fork Fire into Ruidoso in a matter of hours. Evacuations extended to hundreds of homes, businesses, a regional medical center and the Ruidoso Downs horse track.

Nationwide, wildfires have scorched more than 3,344 square miles (8,660 square kilometers) this year — a figure higher than the 10-year average, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

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