USA — The monster fire still growing in the Lincoln National Forest has driven hundreds of people from their homes and destroyed at least 36 buildings as the flames spread into mountain subdivisions.
Residents at one shelter set up in the First Baptist Church were told by the U.S. Forest Service it may be five to seven days before they are allowed back in to check on their properties, KRQE News 13’s Gabrielle Burkhart reported
At last report 36 structures had been destroyed as flames blew through wooded neighborhoods off State Road 48 north of Alto. During the morning the fire jumped NM 48 southwest of its junction with State Road 37 and moved into the Enchanted Hills Subdivision.
A full damage assessment is expected within the next few days, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
No injuries have been reported.
At 8 a.m. Saturday the Forest Service estimated the fire had blackened 26,000 acres and continued to burn out of control driven by southwesterly winds forecast to gust up to 35 mph. An updated estimate of the fire’s size was not expected until additional mapping can be done.
Numerous other homes stood in the path of the fire, and fire bosses reported wind-blown embers igniting tinder-dry forest two miles ahead of the main blaze in the mixed-conifer forest. Firefighters described the fire behavior as “extreme” and reported flame lengths of 100-150 feet.
The number of people forced from the area is in the hundreds, Burkhart reported.
Wind speeds are forecast to increase during the day reaching peak speeds and gusting at or above 35 mph by midafternoon. Similar conditions are expected Sunday, and the National Weather Service has issued Red Flag warnings for for critical fire conditions covering much of southern, central, northern, eastern and northeastern New Mexico.
Skyranger pilot-reporter Bob Martin flying over the scene said intense winds were pushing the fire to the east and northeast. He spotted several homes or cabins consumed by the flames, others with firefighters providing protection and still others just outside the fire’s path.
“Air tankers battled the heavy turbulence close to the ground as long as they could before winds got too strong and threatened their safety,” Martin reported. “They were suspended in the afternoon.
“Helicopter crews have continued to work close around the residential areas trying to slow the flames near homes.”
Flames also damaged the watershed above Bonito Lake, and at Ski Apache the staff set up large hoses to wet down buildings, he added.
At 6 p.m. the Forest Service reported about 450 personnel working the fire with more on order. Structure protection is planned to continue through the night.
The Forest Service update said the fire is zero percent contained, remains active around its perimeter and is primarily moving to the northeast.
A cell-phone tower also was at risk, and News 13 viewers have reported calls to cell phones in the fire area are answered with a recording saying service is out due to local problems. Another viewer reported cell phones and credit-card machines weren’t working in some parts of Ruidoso.
The Ruidoso News quoted Ruidoso Assistant Fire Chief Harlan Vincent as saying there is concern the southwestern flank of the fire could move into the Perk Canyon area on the west side of the village.
“There’s a lot of movement,” McWilliams told the News.
Shortly after 3 p.m. the News reported residents of the Upper Canyon area of the village had been given a precautionary heads-up for an evacuation should the fire moved in their “one-way-in, one-way-out” neighborhood.
Evacuations updated at 6 p.m. Saturday:
All campgrounds West of Bonito Lake Villa Madonna Subdivision Enchanted Forest Nogal Canyon (Forest Road 400 Campground and Summer homes) Eagle Lakes Campground Eagle Creek Summer Homes Ski Run Road at Mile Marker 3 State Highway 532 Angus Sierra Vista Sontara (1,2 and 3) Rancho Ruidoso Copper Canyon Loma Grande Highway 48 to Capitan Highway 37 to Highway 380 Ski Apache
First Baptist Church on Country Club Community Methodist Church Senior Center at Ruidoso Downs Church of Christ on Sudderth Trinity Baptist Church in Capitan. Animals and livestock can be taken to J & J Country Church in Ruidoso or the Fairgrounds in Capitan.
NM532, Apache Ski Run Road, is closed. NM 48, the main highway north of Ruidoso is closed from mile mark 8 north of Ruidoso to Captian. NM 37 from NM 48 to US 380 NM 48/Gavilan Canyon Road NM 220 at US 380.
Smoke filled the surrounding areas prompting health warnings for anyone with respiratory and other issues.
Late Saturday morning a brush truck and four firefighters from the Albuquerque Fire Department left to join the 350 personnel already there or on their way. The Bernalillo County Fire Department dispatched a truck and three firefighters, and Gov. Susana Martinez called out 100 National Guardsmen and two Blackhawk helicopters to aid in the battle.
The lightning-caused fire began on June 4 in the White Mountain Wilderness in the Sacramento Mountains near 9,957-foot Nogal Peak. Firefighters had been working the blaze although access in the steep and rugged terrain proved difficult.
Earlier Friday afternoon the fire management team reported the fire as 100 percent contained, but that was before strong winds blew flames over containment lines igniting spot fires outside the perimeter.
“Fire personnel are using both direct and indirect suppression tactics to contain the fire and keep it from moving further north and east,” a Forest Service statement released just before 10 p.m. said. “Extreme fire activity has been observed on the entire fire perimeter as of late this evening.”
Federal, state and local firefighters have responded, and an additional 350 personnel along with helicopters and heavy air tankers are expected on the scene Saturday.
KRQE News 13 viewers report smoke from the fire to be visible from Socorro to the west and Ruidoso to the east.