Entire New Mexico village evacuates as a pair of fires converges on it ‘like a pair of

In Top News




CNN
 — 

A pair of fast-growing fires are tearing across a south New Mexico tribal reservation and converging on a village “like a pair of tongs,” prompting thousands of residents to evacuate, officials say.

A wall of smoke filled the sky over the village of Ruidoso Monday evening as a line of cars snaked out of the community. An estimated 5,000 residents were ordered to evacuate the village area due to the approaching South Fork Fire, New Mexico Forestry spokesperson George Ducker told CNN.

The South Fork Fire ignited Monday morning on Mescalero Apache tribal land and had exploded to at least 3,000 acres by nightfall, Ducker said. A second blaze, the Salt Fire, is also burning on tribal land south of Ruidoso and has scorched 2,000 acres.

Both fires are acting like “a pair of tongs, and Ruidoso is in the middle,” Ducker said. Multiple structures have been destroyed, he added, though the extent of the damage is still unclear.

Evacuation orders are also in place in parts of the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation, which sits just south of Ruidoso, including the areas of Snow Springs, Fence Canyon, Whitetail, Chihuahua Well, Fantasy Lane, Summit area, and Botella Road, the tribe said.

New Mexico State Police said first responders are grappling with phone outages in the agency’s southern communications center, possibly hindering their ability to respond to 911 calls.

A wall of smoke looms of Ruidoso as its residents evacuate on June 17.

Though Ruidoso is home to only about 8,000 permanent residents, it attracts a flow of recreational tourists with winding trails, vast parks and wilderness. The village estimates about 60% of its houses are vacation homes.

Rebecca Dennis, who was vacationing in Ruidoso with her family, could smell the smoke Monday morning and proactively packed the family’s bags as the fire seemed to grow closer. When the village was ordered to evacuate, the family jumped in the car to drive back to their home in Oklahoma.

“I can’t imagine the chaos had we not been prepared. I truly feel awful for those residents & everyone. But it was & horrible to see the fires all around us,” Dennis wrote on Facebook.

Few paths out of Ruidoso remained Monday evening after both Highway 48 and Highway 70 at Apache Summit were closed due to the South Fork Fire, the village advised on Facebook: “The only route for evacuation is on Sudderth to Highway 70 and out to Roswell.”

The city of Roswell – about 70 miles east of Ruidoso – raced to accommodate evacuees on Monday, including by clearing hospital space for patients who are being relocated from the Ruidoso hospital and setting up emergency shelters for people and livestock.

A shelter is open at Eastern New Mexico University and evacuees with RVs or large animals can also park and board their animals at the Eastern New Mexico State Fairgrounds, the city of Roswell announced.

An electricity utility, PNM, said it had shut off power in portions of Ruidoso at the request of first responders. As of Monday night, nearly 800 homes and businesses were impacted, the utility said.

“Public safety is a top priority and we do not take this decision lightly but are doing all we can to work in lockstep with our first responders who are helping the communities who are impacted,” the utility said in a Facebook post.

The wildfires’ explosive growth has been fed by very dry air and high temperatures. The conditions prompted the Storm Prediction Center to issue an elevated fire risk warning across most of New Mexico, meaning the wind and low humidity could lead to increased fire threats.

The wildfires tearing across southern New Mexico are among a series of fires blazing across the West, including a 15,000-acre blaze in Los Angeles County.

As humans continue to drive climate change with fossil fuel pollution, scientists warn that rapidly-spreading, destructive wildfires will only become more frequent, in part due to hotter temperatures and pervasive drought conditions.

Parts of Lincoln County, where Ruidoso is located, are experiencing several levels of drought ranging from moderate to extreme, according to the US Drought Monitor.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

CNN’s Melissa Alonso, Dave Alsup, Amanda Jackson and Robert Shackelford contributed to this report.



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