Firefighters Make Progress in New Mexico

Full containment of wildfires is weeks away, agency reports
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 22, 2024 3:15 PM CDT
Firefighters Make Progress in New Mexico
In this photo provided by Pam Bonner, smoke rises from fires in Ruidoso, New Mexico, on Monday.   (Pam Bonner via AP)

Recent rains and cooler weather are 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. Fire crews took advantage of temperatures in the 70s, scattered showers, and light winds to use bulldozers to dig protective lines while hand crews used shovels in more rugged terrain to battle the fires near the mountain village of Ruidoso, the AP reports. The South Fork Fire, which reached 26 square miles, was 26% contained, while the Salt Fire, at 12 square miles, was 7% contained as of Saturday morning, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

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 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.

President Biden issued a disaster declaration for parts of southern New Mexico on Thursday. Much of the Southwest has been exceedingly dry and hot for months. Those conditions, along with strong wind, whipped the flames out of control, rapidly advancing the South Fork Fire into Ruidoso in 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 this year—a figure higher than the 10-year average, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

(More New Mexico stories.)

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