In New Mexico, 'a Whole Other Level of Devastation'

There are dozens missing, unconfirmed reports of additional deaths
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 25, 2024 11:41 AM CDT
In New Mexico, 'a Whole Other Level of Devastation'
A charred car and the remains of the Swiss Chalet Hotel are pictured after being destroyed by the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso, NM, Saturday, June 22, 2024.   (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

As residents return to a fire-ravaged village in the mountains of southern New Mexico, the mayor on Monday warned them that some parts of Ruidoso remain off limits as special search and rescue teams comb the charred rubble along the hardest-hit streets. They're looking for the remains of people who are still unaccounted for after the South Fork and Salt fires ripped through the area just days ago, killing at least two people, forcing thousands to flee and destroying more than 1,500 structures across 40 square miles, per the AP. Mayor Lynn Crawford put the number of missing at 29.

Authorities have blocked traffic into so-called exclusion zones to ensure these areas remain undisturbed until they are officially cleared. The FBI also is investigating, offering up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrests and convictions of those responsible for the human-caused fires. The flames were first reported June 17. Within hours, the fires moved through tinder-dry parts of the Sacramento Mountains from Mescalero Apache tribal land toward Ruidoso. Evacuation orders included thousands of homes, businesses and the Ruidoso Downs horse track, prompting traffic jams as people dropped everything and fled.

Village officials estimate that several hundred homes were among the structures destroyed or damaged. Assessments continued Monday as some residents were allowed to return. Images shared on social media showed some homes reduced to ash, only their foundations or fireplaces left standing. It's "a whole other level of devastation," said a Ruidoso rep. "It kind of takes your breath away when you see it." The village has set up temporary housing for about 500 people and food and other supplies were being distributed. Officials were encouraging residents who returned Monday to bring bottled water and a week's worth of food as some utilities have yet to be restored. Full containment isn't expected until July 15, according to fire officials. (More New Mexico stories.)

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