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2 fast-growing wildfires have upended the lives of thousands of people near Ruidoso, N.M.


Two fast-growing wildfires have upended the lives of thousands of people near Ruidoso, N.M.


The village of about 7,000 people remains completely evacuated, and the deadly fires have already burned more than 20,000 acres in just a day.

MARTÍNEZ: KC Counts with member station KRWG in Las Cruces is watching the fires closely. So KC, how did these fires start, and what's the local response been there?

KC COUNTS, BYLINE: Well, good morning. Thank you for having us. The cause is still under investigation, but these fires grew so very fast. There was air support almost immediately, but we had some 20 to 25 mile per hour winds that are always a challenge for firefighters. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham gave an update to New Mexicans during a news conference yesterday.


MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM: More than 17 agencies are on the ground, working together, both federal and state. More than 800 personnel are on the ground, providing services, acting as first responders and battling the fire.

COUNTS: Now, Monday, authorities did an evacuation for all of Ruidoso and several surrounding areas by late afternoon. Yesterday, another 2,600 people were told to leave the community of Ruidoso Downs. Initial response to the fires was from the Mescalero Apache Tribe, on whose land it was first discovered. Yesterday, they called in a lot more help. A federal incident management team has arrived. They'll be taking charge of the fire starting this morning.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, winds make things really difficult to contain, and also very dangerous. Do we know how many homes have burned, and if anyone been injured or killed?

COUNTS: Well, Governor Lujan Grisham said one person has died. We don't have confirmed reports of other deaths or serious injuries at this time, and we don't know anything about that person who has lost their life. We do know about 7,000 people in and around Ruidoso are still evacuated. The State Forestry Division has said about 1,400 structures have been lost. Now, that's an update by last night. Earlier in the day, it was 500 structures. So you can just see how quickly things are changing there. It's unclear at this point how many of those are homes versus businesses. We've seen pictures and videos circulating that appear to show homes and some well-known businesses that are destroyed.

MARTÍNEZ: So you're in Las Cruces. That's about 2 hours from the fire. But I understand that you have property in Ruidoso. What's that town like, and what are you hearing from people who've had to evacuate?

COUNTS: Yeah. It's a resort town. So it's a cool place at 7,000 feet in elevation where people from all over New Mexico and Texas go to cool off from the triple-digit heat in the summertime. And of course, it's surrounded by Pine Forest. There's a ski area, and the Mescalero Apache Tribe operates that as well as a couple of popular casinos. There's also a horse racing track in Ruidoso Downs. We have our property there. Our tenant who rents our home full-time got out safely. But she shared some video with me through the Facebook Messenger app. There was just fire on all sides. It was terrifying. And people are just feeling really anxious to get more information now at this point.

MARTÍNEZ: Oh, of course. I mean, they feel cut off, like any other person would be in a fire like that. What's the outlook for the fire today?

COUNTS: Yeah. There's some good news weather wise. There are some rain chances for the rest of the week - really strong ones - but of course, that could bring the possibility of lightning with these scattered thunderstorms. So by tomorrow, we're starting to see some really healthy rain chances. That will be a huge help.

MARTÍNEZ: KC Counts is with member Station KRWG and Las Cruces, N.M. KC, thanks.

COUNTS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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KC Counts
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.