UNITED STATES NEWS

New Mexico wildfire claims second life, while rain offers hope of relief

Jun 18, 2024, 10:34 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2024, 5:24 pm

ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) — Heavy rain and hail fell Wednesday around an evacuated village in New Mexico threatened by wildfires that have killed at least two people and damaged more than 1,400 structures, offering the hope of some assistance for firefighters but adding the threat of high winds and flash floods.

Air tankers dropped water and red retardant earlier on the pair of fires growing in a mountainous part of the state where earlier in the week residents of the village of Ruidoso were forced to flee the larger of the two blazes with little notice.

New Mexico State Police spokesman Wilson Silver said Wednesday that officers discovered the skeletal remains of an unidentified second in the driver seat of a burned vehicle. It’s the second confirmed death in the blazes. The first fire victim was a badly burned 60-year-old man found by the side of the road near the popular Swiss Chalet Inn in Ruidoso.

Weather patterns were shifting Wednesday with moisture arriving from the Gulf of Mexico, said Bladen Breitreiter of the National Weather Service office in Albuquerque.

“It will be a challenging situation going into the late afternoon and evening,” said Breitreiter, who has been an incident meteorologist at past wildfires. “The potential for scattered to isolated thunderstorms could help, but it depends on where they hit. If the rain misses the fires, downward winds could cause problems for firefighters on the ground.”

He said rain could also lead to dangerous flash flooding in newly burned areas.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the rain and hail that started around Ruidoso on Wednesday afternoon was falling on the fires themselves, or if it would slow their progress. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the area until later Wednesday evening.

The two fires remained at 0% containment Wednesday afternoon as crews used heavy equipment to build fire lines while water and retardant was dropped from the air, authorities said.

Officials said hundreds of firefighters were on the scene and watching to stop any spot fires that could flare up. More personnel from departments from around the region were continuing to arrive.

Ruidoso and much of the Southwest has been exceedingly dry and hot this spring. Those conditions, along with strong wind, whipped flames out of control Monday and Tuesday, rapidly advancing the South Fork Fire into the village. Along with homes and businesses, a regional medical center and the Ruidoso Downs horse track were evacuated.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office confirmed one fatality as a result of the fire but said it had no further details.

About 1,400 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 is being organized, Lujan Grisham said.

Ardis Holder left Ruidoso with her two young daughters, her gas tank nearly on empty as she prayed that they’d get out safely. She was sure the house she rented in the village she grew up in is gone, based on the maps she’d seen.

“We were already seeing where all the fire hit, it’s everywhere,” she said late Tuesday from a shelter in nearby Roswell. “If there’s something standing, that’s awesome. But, if not, we were prepared for the worst.”

Lujan Grisham on Wednesday requested a major disaster declaration from President Joe Biden’s administration that would free up federal funding for immediate housing and other assistance for the people affected.

“New Mexico has faced disaster before, but the scale of this emergency requires immediate federal intervention,” she said.

The day before, she declared a county-wide state of emergency that extended to the neighboring Mescalero Apache Reservation where both fires started and deployed National Guard troops. That declaration unlocks additional funding and resources to manage the crisis.

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.

Lujan Grisham said the two southern New Mexico wildfires together have consumed more than 31 square miles (80 square kilometers). The exact causes of the blazes haven’t been determined, but the Southwest Coordination Center listed them as human-caused.

Ruidoso and areas around Santa Fe and Española, New Mexico, have served as the backdrop this year for filming of a movie starring Matthew McConaughey and America Ferrera about the devastating 2018 wildfire in Paradise, California. That fire killed 85 people and nearly erased the community in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

While many older residents call Ruidoso home year-round, the population of around 7,000 people expands to about 25,000 during the warmer months, when people from hotter climates seek the cool of the leafy aspen trees, hiking trails and a chance to go fishing.

Nestled within the Lincoln National Forest, Ruidoso boasts nearby amenities including a casino, golf course and ski resort operated by the Mescalero Apache Tribe. Horse races at the Ruidoso Downs also draw crowds as home to one of the sport’s richest quarter-horse competitions.

___

Lee reported from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Associated Press writers Sarah Brumfield in Washington, D.C.; Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff, Arizona; Anita Snow in Phoenix; Rio Yamat and Ken Ritter in Las Vegas; and Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.

___

AP Ruidoso wildfires page: https://apnews.com/hub/ruidoso

United States News

FILE - This photo supplied by the U.S. Attorney's Office for Minnesota shows cash from a bag that w...

Associated Press

Man pleads guilty to bribing a Minnesota juror with a bag of cash in COVID-19-related fraud case

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — One of five people charged with attempting to bribe a Minnesota juror with a bag of $120,000 in cash in exchange for an acquittal in a fraud case pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday. Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, 23, pleaded guilty to one count of bribery of a juror, admitting that he recruited […]

20 minutes ago

Jessica and Gary Norton, parents of a transgender student and volleyball player formerly of Monarch...

Associated Press

Florida school board unlikely to fire mom whose transgender daughter played on girls volleyball team

PLANTATION, Fla. (AP) — A Florida school board appeared unlikely Tuesday to fire an employee whose transgender daughter played girls’ high school volleyball in alleged violation of state law, but postponed their final decision until next week. The board is in Broward, one of the state’s most politically liberal counties, with twice as many Democrats […]

27 minutes ago

FILE - Supporters of President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier, Jan. 6, 2021, du...

Associated Press

Wisconsin man charged with fleeing to Ireland to avoid prison term for Capitol riot role

A Wisconsin man fled to Ireland and sought asylum to avoid a prison sentence for joining a mob’s attack on the U.S. Capitol over three years ago, federal authorities allege in a court filing Tuesday. The filing charges Paul Kovacik with defying a court order to surrender and serve three months behind bars for participating […]

52 minutes ago

Temarkus Washington, who says the sexual abuse he experienced as a teenager at a troubled Chicago j...

Associated Press

Survivors sue Illinois over decades of sexual abuse at Chicago youth detention center

CHICAGO (AP) — Temarkus Washington says the sexual abuse he experienced as a teenager at a troubled Chicago youth detention center still gives him nightmares. The 35-year-old spoke publicly about his experiences Tuesday, a day after joining two lawsuits collecting dozens of abuse allegations at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, one of the […]

54 minutes ago

FILE - A passer-by walks through a portion of the Cass Recreational Complex which has been turned i...

Associated Press

Massachusetts issues tighter restrictions on access to homeless shelter system

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey unveiled new restrictions on the state’s homeless family shelter programs Tuesday. Beginning Aug. 1, families who aren’t prioritized for placement in emergency assistance shelters will be eligible to stay at overflow sites for just five days. Healey said she was tightening restrictions on emergency assistance system eligibility because […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Steve Bannon speaks outside Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, July 1, 2024, in Danbu...

Associated Press

Steve Bannon’s trial in border wall fundraising case set for December, after his ongoing prison term

While Steve Bannon serves a four-month federal prison term, the conservative strategist now has a December date for a different trial in New York, where he’s charged with scheming to con donors who gave money to build a border wall with Mexico. With Bannon excused from court because of his incarceration, a judge Tuesday scheduled […]

1 hour ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Sanderson Ford

3 storylines to get you revved up for the 2024 Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals training camp is just a couple weeks away starting on July 25, and Sanderson Ford is revved up and ready to go.

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

New Mexico wildfire claims second life, while rain offers hope of relief