Two Wildfires in New Mexico Burn Out of Control and Force Evacuations


Two wildfires that began Monday in Southern New Mexico and forced the evacuations of thousands of people were still burning out of control on Tuesday with firefighters struggling to contain blazes that had consumed over 18,000 acres, the authorities said.

The larger fire, known as the South Fork fire, was discovered around 9 a.m. Monday morning in the Mescalero Apache Tribal area and grew rapidly, showing “extreme fire behavior,” fire officials said.

People were being evacuated from the village of Ruidoso and the surrounding area on Tuesday.

“Please do not try to gather belongings or protect your home — go now!” the village of Ruidoso advised its residents.

A “creeping” fire, the South Fork fire crossed from the Mescalero reservation to Forest Service land and private land and has impacted 500 structures. It covered roughly 13,000 acres on Tuesday morning.

A second fire, called the Salt Fire, was discovered at 2 p.m. on Monday and was still exclusively on tribal land in mostly inaccessible mountain terrain on Tuesday, covering nearly 5,000 acres.

Both fires were listed as being zero percent contained as of midday Tuesday, and the causes of the fires were still under investigation.

George Ducker, the communications coordinator of the New Mexico Forestry Division, said that Ruidoso was in a “rural area,” and that people would be evacuating with livestock.

Evacuees were heading east to Roswell, N.M. Some roads in other directions were closed because of the fires.

The fires were exacerbated by wind and low humidity, according to New Mexico Fire Information, a website run by federal and state agencies.

The weather in the region on Tuesday was expected to be sunny, with a high of 86 and southwest winds between 10 and 15 mph.

Federal, tribal, state and local departments were in an “all hands on deck situation,” Mr. Ducker said. “Fire crews are working as quickly and safely as possible, focused on structure protection, and trying to put dozer lines in advance of the fire front,” he said. A dozer line is a fireline put in place by a bulldozer.

Explaining the rapid growth of the flames on Monday into Tuesday, the authority said the blazes were characterized by “long-range spotting,” when embers move out with the wind and may ignite new fires, “and intense heat with plume domination,” when flames reach very high. Flames were reaching heights “in the hundreds of feet,” Mr. Ducker said. “The heat in the interior is very, very hot.”

Southern New Mexico has been one of the most drought-stricken parts of the country. Mr. Ducker said the region has been in a drought for a decade. “This is climate change. It is hot, and it is dry. There is some moisture potentially coming on Wednesday, but I’m not holding my breath,” he said.



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