Southern New Mexico wildfire leads to evacuation of village of 7,000

Jun 18, 2024



SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Residents of the mountain village of Ruidoso in southern New Mexico fled their homes under evacuation orders with little time to rescue belongings as fast-moving wildfires bore down on the village of 7,000 residents.

Traffic clogged downtown streets of the normally pastoral village and summer vacation destination for hours Monday as smoke darkened the evening sky and 100-foot (30-meter) flames climbed a ridgeline. By Tuesday morning, city webcams showed a deserted main street with smoke still wafting in the sky.

“GO NOW: Do not attempt to gather belongings or protect your home. Evacuate immediately,” officials with Ruidoso, a village home to 7,000 people, said on its website and in social media posts at about 7 p.m. Monday.

Accountant Steve Jones said he and his wife evacuated overnight as emergency crews arrived at their doorstep and dense smoke filled the Ruidoso valley, making it difficult to breathe.

“We had a 40-mph (55-kph) wind that was taking this fire all along the ridge, we could literally see 100-foot (30-meter) flames,” said Jones, who relocated in a camper. “That’s why it consumed so much acreage.”

He said cellphone and internet service failed with the evacuation underway, while villagers tuned into AM radio for updates, packed up belongings and drove off from Ruidoso, which is about 130 miles (210 kilometers) southeast of Albuquerque.

“The traffic became bumper-to-bumper, slow-moving, and people’s nerves became a little jangled,” he said.

Public Service Company of New Mexico shut off power to part of the village due to the fire, which was estimated to be about 22 square miles (56 square kilometers) with 0% containment, forestry and village officials said Tuesday morning. The state forestry division said multiple structures were threatened and a number have been lost. A portion of U.S. Highway 70 was closed south of the village.

“We were getting ready to sit down to a meal and the alert came on: Evacuate now, don’t take anything or plan to pack anything, just evacuate,” Mary Lou Minic told KOB-TV. “And within three to five minutes, we were in the car, leaving.”

The South Fork Fire started Monday on the Mescalero Apache Reservation, where the tribal president issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency. It was burning on tribal and U.S. Forest Service land within areas surrounding Ruidoso.

A second fire, called the Salt Fire, also was burning on the Mescalero reservation and southwest of Ruidoso. It was over 7.6 square miles (19.6 square kilometers) as of Tuesday morning with no containment, the forestry division said.

The Village of Ruidoso is about 75 miles (121 kilometers) west of Roswell, where several evacuation centers were set up.

An air quality alert was issued for very unhealthy air in Ruidoso and surrounding areas due to smoke.

In California, firefighters have increased their containment of a large wildfire that is burning in steep, hard-to-reach areas in mountains north of Los Angeles, officials said. But hot, dry, windy weather could challenge their efforts Tuesday.

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