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5,000 under evacuation orders as New Mexico wildfire rages

Douglas Siddens’ mother was among those who walked away with only the clothes on their backs when a deadly wind-fed wildfire ripped through a mountain community in southern New Mexico.

The RV park where she lived was reduced to “metal frame rails and steel wheels”, said Siddens, who managed the site.

“I had about 10 people displaced. They lost their homes and everything, including my mother,” he said.

The fire has destroyed more than 200 homes and claimed two lives since it broke out on Tuesday near the village of Ruidoso, a holiday resort that attracts thousands of tourists and horse racing enthusiasts every summer.

Hundreds of homes and summer cottages dot the surrounding mountain sides. The RV park run by Siddens is close to where an elderly couple were found dead outside their charred residence this week.

Elsewhere in the United States, crews fought large fires this week in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado, where a new blaze forced evacuations on Friday along the eastern front of the Rockies near Lyon, about 29 kilometers north from Boulder.

That fire was burning in the Blue Mountains near the Larimer-Boulder County line, about 20 miles southeast of Estes Park, the eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.

In New Mexico, power was restored to all but a few hundred customers, but evacuation orders for nearly 5,000 people remained in place.

Donations poured in from surrounding communities all too familiar with how devastating wildfires can be.

A decade ago, a fire tore through part of the village of Ruidoso, putting the vacation spot on the map with the most destructive wildfire in New Mexico’s recorded history when more than 240 homes burned and nearly 70 square miles (181 square kilometers) of forest was blackened by a blaze sparked by lightning.

Mayor Lynn Crawford brought heartbroken residents together again on Friday as firefighters tried to stop wind-whipped flames from making another run through the village. She said the response from their neighbors has been amazing.

“So we have a lot of food, we have a lot of clothes, that kind of stuff, but we still appreciate and need your prayers and your thoughts,” the mayor said during a briefing. “Once again, our hearts go out to the family of the deceased, to those who lost their homes.”

Authorities have yet to release the names of the deceased couple. Their bodies were found after worried family members contacted police, saying the couple had planned to evacuate on Tuesday when the fire erupted, but were not found later that day .

While many older residents call Ruidoso home year-round, the population of around 8,000 swells to around 25,000 during the summer months as Texans and New Mexicans from warmer climes seek respite.

Fans also flock to Ruidoso Downs, which hosts one of the richest quarter-horse competitions in the sport. The racing season was due to start on May 27, and horses riding there are in no danger as firefighters use the facility as a staging ground.

Part-time residents have taken to social media over the past few days, pleading with firefighters for updates on certain neighborhoods, hoping their family cabins weren’t among those damaged or destroyed.

Hotlines went on Friday afternoon as village residents called to report more smoke. Fire Information Officer Mike DeFries said it was because there were flare-ups inside the fire as the flames found pockets of unburnt fuel.

Although the blaze did not make any journey on the lines established by the crews, he said it was still a difficult day for firefighters due to single-digit humidity, warmer temperatures and wind.

Authorities reiterated that it was still too early to start letting people in to see the damage. They asked for patience as fire crews extinguished hot spots and attempted to build a stronger perimeter around the blaze.

“It’s still an active fire zone in there and it’s not a safe place,” DeFries said. “It will take patience. At the same time, every step we take is designed to put out this fire and get people home as soon as possible. »

Authorities in New Mexico said they suspect the blaze, which has engulfed more than 9.5 square miles (24 square kilometers) of forest and grass, was started by a downed power line and the investigation is ongoing. continues on Friday.

Warmer, drier weather, coupled with decades of fire suppression, has contributed to an increase in the number of acres burned by wildfires, fire scientists say. The problem is exacerbated by a 20-plus-year Western mega-drought that studies have shown is linked to human-induced climate change.


Cedar Attanasio contributed reporting from Santa Fe. Attanasio is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.

ABC News

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