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Wildfires blaze across New Mexico and California, prompting evacuations

A car rides on the road to Roswell, N.M., as smoke from a wildfire partially blocks the sun near the village of Ruidoso, N.M., on Tuesday, June 18. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings.
Andres Leighton
/
AP
A car rides on the road to Roswell, N.M., as smoke from a wildfire partially blocks the sun near the village of Ruidoso, N.M., on Tuesday, June 18. Thousands of southern New Mexico residents fled the mountainous village as a wind-whipped wildfire tore through homes and other buildings.

Updated June 19, 2024 at 14:17 PM ET

A number of wildfires in New Mexico and California have spawned evacuations, with intense blazes developing quickly and making damage assessments difficult for local officials.

The South Fork Fire, which was first reported Monday morning in southern New Mexico’s Village of Ruidoso, has now burned more than 15,000 acres and is 0% contained, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has declared a state of emergency, ordering evacuations for Ruidoso and nearby tribal lands. The emergency declaration will help the state allocate resources from the National Guard.

Grisham commended first responders and residents who have helped others who were forced to evacuate.

“The number of New Mexicans who, on their own, are helping and are offering up their own homes for shelter shows me, once again, the generosity and compassion of the people in this state,” the governor said.

The blaze has damaged or destroyed more than 500 structures, though Grisham said the intensity of the fire makes it such that a flyover will be necessary to map a more accurate damage assessment.

A Ruidoso resident sleeps at a shelter in Roswell, N.M., after evacuating from Ruidoso, on Tuesday, June 18.
Andres Leighton / AP
/
AP
A Ruidoso resident sleeps at a shelter in Roswell, N.M., after evacuating from Ruidoso, on Tuesday, June 18.

“It will really allow us to see inside the fire in a way that we cannot do now because it is too dangerous to be in the heart of the fire,” she said.

Residents of Ruidoso said what should have been a 15-minute drive out of town became a horrifying hours-long endeavor. The Associated Press reported that real estate agent Christie Hood said the evacuation order came so quickly that she and her husband had little time to gather up their children and dogs.

“It looked like the sky was on fire. It was bright orange,” Hood said. “Honestly, it looked like the apocalypse. It was terrifying and sparks were falling on us.”

A second wildfire is burning in southern New Mexico about five miles southeast of the South Fork Fire. The Salt Fire has burned about 7,000 acres and was 1% contained as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the wildfire tracking app Watch Duty.

Northern California battles back its own set of new fires

After California fire crews began battling wildfires over the weekend, new blazes have also broke out in the northern part of the state this week.

The Aero Fire, located in the small Calaveras County community of Copperopolis southwest of Sacramento, broke out Monday. The blaze has burned more than 5,000 acres and has forced evacuations, with CalFire officials reporting three structures destroyed and one damaged. Local officials have set up three evacuation centers, but the number of evacuees remains unknown. With winds decreasing and relative humidity increasing, firefighters have been able to get the Aero Fire 33% contained.

Another wildfire, the Sites Fire, also erupted Monday in Colusa County, just over 100 miles to the north of San Francisco. CalFire reports that the blaze, which has torched more than 15,000 acres, is 5% contained.

But crews have reason to remain optimistic about conditions in California’s Central Valley. The National Weather Service says red flag warnings for fire conditions were set to expire by midday Wednesday.

Copyright 2024 NPR

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Dave Mistich
Originally from Washington, W.Va., Dave Mistich joined NPR part-time as an associate producer for the Newcast unit in September 2019 — after nearly a decade of filing stories for the network as a Member station reporter at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. In July 2021, he also joined the Newsdesk as a part-time reporter.