Wildfire destroys over 500 structures and forces entire town to evacuate in minutes

RUIDOSO, NM – More than 500 structures have been damaged as wildfires continue to rage across New Mexico, forcing the evacuation of over 7,000 residents from an entire town, officials reported Tuesday. The fires remain active and uncontained, posing a significant threat to the region.

The South Fork Fire, which ignited Monday morning on the Mescalero Apache Reservation, has rapidly expanded from an initial 360 acres to a staggering 13,921 acres by Tuesday morning, according to the New Mexico Forestry Division. Meanwhile, the Salt Fire has scorched 4,876 acres. Both fires were reported to be 0% contained as of Tuesday, with their causes still under investigation.

The Village of Ruidoso, a town with a population of approximately 7,700 located just west of the Apache reservation, was ordered to evacuate on Monday due to the encroaching flames. By Tuesday afternoon, residents of the nearby community of Ruidoso Downs were also instructed to leave their homes.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency for Lincoln County and the Mescalero Apache Reservation, emphasizing the deployment of every available resource to combat the wildfires. The National Guard has been mobilized to assist, and the emergency declaration facilitates additional funding and support.

One couple from Ruidoso described their swift departure upon receiving the evacuation alert, underscoring the urgency of the situation. New Mexico State Forester Laura McCarthy highlighted the extreme fire behavior observed, noting that the fires intensified again on Tuesday. “This fire is dangerous and fast-moving,” McCarthy stated during a news conference, adding that strong winds, though not quite at red flag levels, were exacerbating the situation.

In Ruidoso, many of the approximately 5,000 evacuees are staying with family and friends, while around 500 have sought refuge in shelters in Roswell or at a center on the reservation. Ruidoso Downs, a community of about 2,400 residents located east of Ruidoso, was also evacuated following a surge by the Salt Fire.

While no fatalities have been reported, at least two individuals have been treated for injuries. The weather is expected to shift, which could bring both challenges and relief. Winds are anticipated to change direction, potentially bringing moisture to the fire-affected areas, but also raising the risk of further structural damage.

The New Mexico Forestry Division emphasized that this is a full suppression fire, with efforts focused on building fire lines and protecting homes and properties. The dynamic nature of the fire, influenced by evolving weather conditions, continues to pose a significant threat to the region.