Rain Aiding Firefighters in Battling Deadly Wildfires in Southern New Mexico

New Mexico Wildfires

RUIDOSO, N.M. — More than 1,000 firefighters were making progress on two wildfires in southern New Mexico on Saturday, aided by rainy conditions. The fires have resulted in two deaths, the destruction of hundreds of homes, and the evacuation of thousands of residents.

Firefighters equipped with bulldozers were constructing fire lines, while hand crews used shovels in more difficult terrain to combat the blazes near the mountain village of Ruidoso. The South Fork Fire, which has burned 26 square miles (67 square kilometers), was 26% contained, while the Salt Fire, spanning 12 square miles (31 square kilometers), was 7% contained as of Saturday morning, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Full containment is not anticipated until July 15, according to the agency.

An estimated 1,400 structures have been destroyed or damaged by the wildfires. Additional consequences of the fires, including downed power lines, damaged water, sewer, and gas lines, and flooding in burn areas, continue “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 remain in place. Full-time residents of Ruidoso will be permitted to return on Monday, although everyday life will not immediately resume.

“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 inspect the disaster area on Saturday.

President Joe Biden issued a disaster declaration for parts of southern New Mexico on Thursday, providing funding and additional resources to support 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 experienced exceptionally dry and hot conditions in recent months. These conditions, combined with strong winds, fueled the fires, causing the South Fork Fire to rapidly spread into Ruidoso within hours. Evacuations encompassed 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, exceeding the 10-year average, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.