New Mexico Battles ‘Devastating’ Wildfires as Weather Complicates the Fight

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Two fast-moving wildfires in Southern New Mexico that have prompted the evacuation of thousands of people and scorched more than 20,000 acres continued to burn out of control on Wednesday, officials said, and it was unclear when firefighters might gain some control.

The blazes, named the South Fork and Salt fires, began earlier this week amid sweltering temperatures in the region, and shifts in the weather on Wednesday may further complicate efforts to contain them.

Temperatures were forecast to reach the mid-80s in some areas of Southern New Mexico with a chance of showers and thunderstorms beginning in the afternoon, the National Weather Service said. But expected winds up to 15 miles an hour may cause the fire to spread.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico emphasized how dangerous the wildfires had become in a short time.

“We have two devastating, enormous fires,” she said. “When I say enormous, it means they are getting more and more complicated to address.”

The expected combination of rain and wind on Wednesday was both good news and bad news, Laura McCarthy, a New Mexico State Forester, said at the same news conference. “It also means that this fire is going to be dynamic, at least until we see what rainfall amounts materialize,” she said, adding that the increasing winds might also put homes in danger.

Governor Grisham, who declared a state of emergency in Lincoln County and the Mescalero Apache Reservation because of the fires, called the situation “very serious,” adding that travel around the southern region of the state was not only discouraged but not possible because of road closings.

By Tuesday evening, the wildfires were presenting a clear threat to residents in Southern New Mexico, particularly the village of Ruidoso, which is between the two fires. At least one person died as a result of the fires, a state official said, though no additional details about the death were available.

The larger blaze, the South Fork fire, has burned more than 15,000 acres, destroyed 1,400 structures and was zero percent contained, according to New Mexico Fire Information. The fire was discovered around 9 a.m. on Monday morning in the Mescalero Apache tribal area and grew rapidly, officials said.

The second blaze, the Salt fire, was discovered a few miles away on Monday afternoon and has since burned more than 5,500 acres of tribal land in mostly inaccessible mountain terrain.

About 8,000 people had been evacuated from Ruidoso and the surrounding area by Tuesday evening, the New Mexico State Forestry Division said.

At the news conference, Governor Grisham was asked if she was aware of any people trapped or unaccounted for in the mass dash for safety.

“I don’t have an accurate number, I don’t know that anyone does,” she said. “Again, if you believe that you’ve got a loved one that is in jeopardy, we want to know about it, we want to do everything we can.”



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