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Crews battle New Mexico wildfire that killed 2 as some evacuees begin to return home

RUIDOSO, NM (AP) — Authorities lifted some evacuation orders for a mountain community in southern New Mexico as firefighters worked Saturday to contain a wind-driven blaze that killed two people and destroyed more of 200 houses.

Evacuation orders lifted on Friday night likely covered more than half of the roughly 4,000 people originally ordered to leave their homes since the blaze began on Tuesday, but specific numbers were not immediately available, the doorman said. word from the village of Ruidoso, Kerry Gladden, to The Associated Press on Saturday. Evacuation estimates were previously put at around 5,000 people.

“The big story is that we’re in restocking mode,” Gladden said earlier at a news conference.

READ MORE: 2 dead, more than 200 homes burned in New Mexico wildfire

Those evacuation orders that remain in effect could be lifted in the coming days, officials said.

Fire incident commander Dave Bales said crews worked to extinguish hot spots and clear lines along the perimeter of the fire to prevent the fire from spreading. The fire was not brought under control, but Bales expressed a mixture of satisfaction with the work done so far and the outlook for the days to come.

Saturday’s weather conditions looked favorable with reduced wind and increased humidity, Bales said. “We have lines. We just want to make sure they hold up in this wind,” he said.

The fire and the winds that spread it knocked down power lines and knocked out power to 18,000 customers. Power has been restored to all but a few dozen customers, said Wilson Guinn, an official with Public Service Co.

But people returning home should be careful and call utility officials if they encounter downed lines, Guinn said.

“We may have missed something,” Guinn said. “Don’t try to touch them, fix them, roll them up, whatever.”

Gladden, the village spokesman, said residents should also be aware that high winds earlier in the week may have damaged trees that could still fall or lose limbs.

“It is important that what triggered this whole event was a major windstorm,” she said.

Hotlines came on Friday afternoon as residents reported more smoke, which Fire Information Officer Mike De Fries said was caused by outbreaks inside the building. blaze as flames found pockets of unburned fuel.

READ MORE: Climate change is causing more wildfires and governments are unprepared, says UN

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 .

On Saturday, the fire had burned 9.6 square miles (25 square kilometers) of woods and brush.

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.

A decade ago, Ruidoso was the site of 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 were blackened by a fire caused by lightning.

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.


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