Deadly New Mexico Wildfires Prompt Mass Evacuations

The 8,000 residents of the New Mexican mountain resort town of Ruidoso in southern Lake County were ordered to evacuate as wildfires tore through the vacation village, burning buildings and homes and killing at least one person.

The sudden South Fork and Salt wildfires that ignited on Monday, June 17, prompted New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham to declare a state of emergency for Lincoln County and the Mescalero Apache Reservation and deploy additional troops from the New Mexico National Guard to the region to respond to the fires that had already destroyed 500 buildings and homes and nearly 20,000 acres.

The governor’s office confirmed that there had been one fatality but provided no further details.

Ruidoso resident Christy Hood told the Associated Press that last Monday’s evacuation order came so quickly that she and her husband only had enough time to grab their children and dogs and flee the area.

She said as they left, they could see flames coming at them from all sides. The heavy traffic from the evacuation turned the typical 15-minute drive out of town into a two-hour slog.

Hood described the site of the bright orange sky as apocalyptic, saying sparks were falling around them as they headed out of town.

According to a June 19 press release, Governor Grisham sent a formal request to President Biden asking him to declare a Major Disaster Declaration, highlighting the “urgent need for federal assistance” due to the ongoing threats from the wildfires that in the first 24 hours had damaged 1,400 structures.

Grisham explained that the state’s first responders needed additional resources from the federal government to “combat this disaster and keep our people safe.”

Ruidoso is a high-altitude vacation town in the Lincoln National Forest that features a casino, ski resort, and golf course operated by the nearby Mescalero Apache Indians.

While the exact cause of the wildfires has yet to be determined, the Southwest Coordination Center described the fires as “human-caused.”