5,000 under evacuation orders as wildfire rages in New Mexico

Douglas Siddens’ mother was among those who escaped with only her clothes on her back when a deadly, wind-fueled 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 who were displaced. They lost their homes and everything, including my mother,” he said.

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

Hundreds of houses and summer cottages line the surrounding mountain slopes. The RV park managed by Siddens is near where an elderly couple were found dead outside their charred residence this week.

Elsewhere in the US, crews have been battling large fires this week in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado, where a fresh fire on Friday forced evacuations along the eastern front of the Rocky Mountains near Lyon, about 18 miles north of Boulder.

This fire burned 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.

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

A decade ago, a fire raged through part of the village of Ruidoso, putting the resort town on the map with the most destructive wildfire in recorded New Mexico history, when more than 240 homes and nearly 110 square miles of burned forest were blackened by a lightning-triggered fire .

On Friday, Mayor Lynn Crawford again rallied heartbroken residents as firefighters tried to keep windswept flames from making another run on the village. She said her neighbors’ reaction was amazing.

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

Authorities have not yet released the names of the deceased couple. Their bodies were found after concerned family members contacted police and said the couple had planned to evacuate on Tuesday when the fire erupted but was not reported later that day.

While many older residents call Ruidoso year-round home, the population swells from about 8,000 people to about 25,000 in the summer months as Texans and New Mexicans from hotter climates seek rest.

Fans also flock to Ruidoso Downs, home of one of the richest quarter horse competitions in the sport. The racing season is expected to start on May 27 and horses entering there will not be in danger as the fire department uses the facility as a base.

Part-time residents have taken to social media in recent days, asking firefighters for updates on specific neighborhoods in hopes their family homes aren’t among those damaged or destroyed.

Hotlines lit up Friday afternoon as people in the village called to report more smoke. Fire information officer Mike DeFries said that was because flares started inside the fire as the flames found pockets of unburned fuel.

While the fire wasn’t making runs at the lines set up by the crews, he said it was still a tough day for firefighters due to the single-digit humidity, warmer temperatures and wind.

Authorities reiterated that it was too early to let people in to see the damage. They asked for patience while firefighters put out the fire and tried to build a stronger perimeter around the fire.

“There’s still an active fire area in there and it’s not a safe place,” DeFries said. “It will take patience. At the same time, every step we take is aimed at suppressing this fire and getting people home as quickly as possible.”

New Mexico authorities said they suspect the fire, which has torched more than 8 square miles of forest and grass, was started by a downed power line, and the investigation continued Friday.

Hotter and drier weather combined with decades of firefighting have contributed to an increase in acres burned by wildfires, according to fire scientists. The problem is compounded by a more than 20-year western mega-drought that studies link to human-caused climate change.


Cedar Attanasio contributed coverage from Santa Fe. Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover undercover topics. 5,000 under evacuation orders as wildfire rages in New Mexico

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