New Mexico wildfires: 2 confirmed dead, 1,400 structures lost as flames ravage Ruidoso (2024)

Alex DriggarsLubbock Avalanche-Journal

Two people were confirmed dead Wednesday as a result of the wildfire outbreak that was still raging around Ruidoso while the community also faced the threat of flash flooding following heavy rains in the afternoon.

New Mexico State Police confirmed Patrick Pearson, 60, died in the South Fork Fire as it continues to encroach on the popular New Mexico resort village. Police said Pearson was found burned on the side of the road near the Swiss Chalet Inn on North Mechem Road Tuesday.

NMSP said another person was found dead in the driver's seat of a car on Ranier Road Tuesday but could not immediately be identified because of the extent of the person's burns.

In addition to the deaths, the New Mexico Forestry Division estimates around 1,400 structures have been lost in the fires so far.

Despite nearby heavy rainfall, fire officials said the South Fork Fire, which is burning on the western edge of Ruidoso, had grown to 16,335 acres by Thursday and was still 0% contained. The Salt Fire to the south of town was estimated at 7,071 acres.

"Fire activity included crowning and long-range spotting, which increased the fire’s footprint from (Tuesday) morning’s acreage total," a Tuesday night update from the Forestry Division said of the South Fork Fire. "Response crews were able to directly engage areas of the fire’s footprint when conditions allowed."

The update noted "fire growth has been rapid with extreme fire behavior, long range spotting and intense heat" with additional growth expected.

The fires sparked Monday morning on Mescalero Apache tribal land, and a cause has not yet been determined. Mescalero officials remained in command of the fire response initially but transferred command to a complex incident management team Wednesday morning.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grishamissued a state of emergencyTuesday for Lincoln County and the Mescalero Apache Reservation in order to direct more state resources to help manage the disaster.

The governor urged people who are searching for loved ones to call 833-NM-FIRE-6 (833-663-4736).

How did the Ruidoso fire start?

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, and people should refrain from speculation, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said at a news conference in Roswell Wednesday evening, June 19, the El Paso Times reported. She was joined by Roswell Mayor Timothy Jennings and U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury.

Six investigators are working to find the cause, and results will be shared when the investigation is concluded, Grisham said.

Ruidoso fire leaves residents unaccounted for

During a mandatory evacuation order, some residents chose to stay behind, Grisham said at the news conference.

"We are very concerned about the potential loss of life," Grisham said. "We know there are several people still unaccounted for."

Search teams were scheduled to move into Ruidoso on Thursday, June 20, to locate any remaining residents, the El Paso Times reported. Grisham mentioned that the exact number of residents who stayed despite the evacuation order is unknown.

A gap in communications has posed challenges for families attempting to contact their loved ones, Grisham noted. While communication systems for first responders are in place, cellular towers are currently non-operational.

Public briefings with more information will commence tomorrow afternoon, Grisham added.

Rain, flash floods complicate South Fork, Salt Fire response

Though storms flaring up in the Ruidoso area could help to dampen the flames, flash flooding complicated efforts to suppress the fires Wednesday afternoon.

On Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service in Albuquerque issued a flash flood watch for areas near Ruidoso beginning at 3 p.m. MDT due to expected heavy rainfall over burn scars for the ongoing South Fork Fire and recent Blue 2 Fire near the village.

Just after 2:30 p.m. MDT, a storm was parked just northwest of Ruidoso over already-burned areas, dumping torrential rainfall on the fire-ravaged land — up to 2.5 inches in just 30 minutes. NWS Albuquerque called the situation "extremely dangerous" and issued a flash flood emergency — a relatively rare warning reserved for only the most severe flash-flooding situations.

"FLASH FLOOD EMERGENCY for Ruidoso, Alto, Ruidoso Downs, and Hollywood," the warning reads. "This is a PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS SITUATION. SEEK HIGHER GROUND NOW!"

The same storm was also producing baseball-sized hail, and a severe thunderstorm warning was issued for the cell.

Because of the potential for flash flooding, Ruidoso's Office of Emergency Management pulled its personnel out of the area and worked to evacuate anyone remaining downstream of the storm, according to a social media announcement.

Evacuations remain in effect for Ruidoso, The Downs

Local officials ordered evacuations Monday evening for the Village of Ruidoso and Ruidoso Downs — representing a combined population of more than 10,000. Those evacuation orders remained in effect by noon MDT Tuesday.

Other areas under evacuation orders included Upper Canyon, Brady Canyon, Ponderosa Heights, Alpine Village, Cedar Creek, Lower Eagle Creek, Alto Lakes, Sonterra 1, 2 and 3, Alto (up to the Outlaw Golf Course), West Gavilan, Sun Valley, Sierra Vista, Villa Madonna, Ski Run Road, all areas west of N.M. State Road 48, and all of Gavilan Canyon Road from N.M. 48 to McDonald's.

"Please stay out of the area, and do not attempt to get back into the Village," Ruidoso officials said in aTuesday update. "There are no open roads into Ruidoso, and the New Mexico State Police will have roadblocks at all entry points and they will not allow you to pass."

Updates on the fires and evacuations are being shared via radio broadcast at 1490 AM, thevillageandcounty websitesand social media.

Several shelters were available for evacuees, including:

  • Capitan High School— Capitan
  • Carrizozo High School— 800 D Ave., Carrizozo
  • Christ Community Church— 2960 N. Scenic Drive, Alamogordo
  • Church on the Move— 901 W. Brasher Rd., Roswell
  • Church on the Move Dream Center— 2700 W. Second St., Roswell
  • Eastern New Mexico University— 52 University Blvd., Roswell
  • Godfrey Athletic Center— 101 W. College Blvd., Roswell
  • Inn of the Mountain Gods— 287 Carrizo Canyon Rd., Mescalero

This is a developing story.

New Mexico wildfire map: Track fires and smoke

If you can't see the map,click here.

Ruidoso webcam: See a live look at the village

This live view from Ruidoso's Midtown is courtesy Additional webcams are availablehere.

New Mexico wildfires: 2 confirmed dead, 1,400 structures lost as flames ravage Ruidoso (2024)


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