Rain and Floods Hit New Mexico Region Ravaged by Wildfires


Heavy rain and flash flooding hit a part of southern New Mexico where two fast-moving wildfires continued to rage on Wednesday after killing two people, officials said. Although the rain will help firefighters’ efforts, the blazes were still expected to continue for several days, the authorities said.

The wildfires, named the South Fork and Salt fires, began this week amid sweltering temperatures and have prompted the evacuation of thousand of people and burned more than 23,000 acres. The South Fork fire, the larger of the two, has burned more than 16,000 acres and destroyed 1,400 structures, according to the Southwest Area Incident Management Team. About 500 of those structures were believed to be homes, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said at a news conference on Wednesday night.

The New Mexico police said in a statement on Wednesday that both of the people who died had been found on Tuesday in or near the village of Ruidoso, N.M., which is between the two fires. One victim, whom the police identified as Patrick Pearson, 60, was found on the side of a road near a motel with burns, the statement said. The other victim, who was found in the driver’s seat of a burned vehicle on a road, was not immediately identified, it said.

Temperatures reached the upper 80s and 90s in Southern New Mexico on Wednesday before a storm dumped torrential rain in the Ruidoso area in the afternoon, the National Weather Service said on social media, with some areas receiving 2.5 inches of rain in a half-hour.

“Water rescues are ongoing in the Ruidoso area as flood waters surge down the slopes from nearby burn scars,” the National Weather Service said on social media on Wednesday, describing the situation as “extremely dangerous.” It declared a flash-flood emergency for Ruidoso and some surrounding areas, and issued severe thunderstorm and flood warnings for several New Mexico counties. Parts of the state will remain under flood warnings until early on Thursday.

Officials in Ruidoso said on Wednesday afternoon that they were stopping operations in certain areas near the fire because of the warnings. “As the units and crews leave these areas,” the officials said on social media, “they will be evacuating anyone that is still in the area to higher ground.” Earlier, firefighters in air tankers and helicopters dropped water and retardant on the flames, while firefighters on the ground constructed firelines.

The fires were expected to continue burning in the coming days, Melanie Stansbury, who represents New Mexico’s First Congressional District, said at the news conference on Wednesday night.

The rain presented its own dangers, with three flood rescues having taken place, Ms. Lujan Grisham said, adding that the damage to structures made the fire one of the most devastating in New Mexico’s history.

Several people were still unaccounted for, according to the governor, who had declared a state of emergency in Lincoln County and the Mescalero Apache Reservation because of the fires.

The Red Cross said on Wednesday that more than 528 people had sought refuge at nine emergency shelters, and that hundreds of meals and snacks had been provided to them. The organization said that it was also providing emotional support, relief supplies and health services, and that more disaster workers were on the way.

The South Fork fire was discovered around 9 a.m. Monday in the Mescalero Apache tribal area. The Salt fire was discovered a few miles away on Monday afternoon and has since burned more than 7,000 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, New Mexico’s forestry division said.

Victor Mather and Aimee Ortiz contributed reporting.

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