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HomeWorldRains help firefighters gain ground on large wildfires in southern New Mexico

Rains help firefighters gain ground on large wildfires in southern New Mexico

RUIDOSO, N.M. — RUIDOSO, N.M. (AP) — Rainy conditions on Saturday, more than 1,000 firefighters helped gain ground on two wildfires in southern New Mexico that killed two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee.

Firefighters used bulldozers to dig protective lines and hand crews used shovels in rougher terrain to battle the blazes near the mountain village of Ruidoso. The South Fork Fire, which reached 22 square miles, was 26% contained, while the Salt Fire, at 11 square miles, was 7% contained as of Saturday morning, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Complete containment was not expected until July 15, according to the agency.

The wildfires destroyed or damaged an estimated 1,400 buildings. Other impacts from the fires — including downed power lines, damaged water, sewer and gas lines, flooding in burn scars — continued to “pose risks to firefighters and the public,” according to a Saturday update from the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

Evacuations in areas near Ruidoso and road closures were still in effect. In Ruidoso, full-time residents will be allowed to return Monday, although daily life will not return to normal.

“You’re going to have to bring a week’s worth of food, you’re going to have to bring drinking water,” Mayor Lynn Crawford said on Facebook.

Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham were scheduled to tour the disaster area on Saturday.

President Joe Biden has one disaster declaration for parts of southern New Mexico on Thursday, freeing up funding and more resources to help with recovery efforts, including temporary housing, low-cost loans to cover uninsured properties and other emergency work in Lincoln County and on lands belonging to the Mescalero Apache Tribe.

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Much of the Southwest has been extremely dry and hot in the past months. These conditions, along with strong winds, caused the flames to grow out of control, causing the South Fork Fire to rapidly advance toward Ruidoso within hours. The evacuations extended to hundreds of homes, businesses, a regional medical center and the Ruidoso Downs horse racing track.

Nationally, wildfires have scorched more than 8,660 square kilometers this year — a figure higher than the 10-year average, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

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