2nd death reported in New Mexico wildfires, with blazes predicted to grow


A second death was reported Wednesday in a pair of wildfires in New Mexico that have forced the evacuations of thousands of people in and around the town of Ruidoso and destroyed around 1,400 structures.

Both bodies were found Tuesday, a day after the fires broke out and spread quickly, New Mexico State Police spokesperson Wilson Silver said.

Andres Leighton (Andres Leighton / The Associated Press )
Andres Leighton (Andres Leighton / The Associated Press )

One person was found in a burned vehicle in the South Fork Fire in the village of Ruidoso, which had been ordered to evacuate Monday, Wilson said. That person was not identified.The body of the second person, Patrick Pearson, 60, was found on the side of a road near the Swiss Chalet Motel with burn injuries from the fire, Wilson said.

Around 8,000 people in and around Ruidoso have been ordered to evacuate in the face of the South Fork Fire and the Salt Fire, which both broke out Monday morning on the Mescalero Apache Reservation.Both fires were 0% contained, and what sparked them remains under investigation.

The fires have destroyed around 1,400 structures and were expected to grow Wednesday, the New Mexico Forestry Division said.

Officials believe that around 500 homes were among the approximately 1,400 structures destroyed in the fire, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said at a Wednesday night news conference, but she cautioned the number of homes lost has not been confirmed.

Grisham said the loss of homes makes “this one of the most devastating fires in New Mexico’s history.”

The South Fork Fire has burned an estimated 16,335 acres, and the Salt Fire has burned an estimated 7,071 acres, the state Forestry Division said in an update Wednesday.

The South Fork Fire is in Ruidoso and beyond it to the west and north, according to fire maps from the state Forestry Division, while the Salt Fire is to the south of the town of around 7,500. A run on the Salt Fork fire forced the evacuation of the community of Ruidoso Downs on Tuesday, officials said.

Grisham has called the wildfires a crisis and declared a state of emergency, which allows for greater aid. She has vowed that all resources were being sent to help, and she also sent members of the National Guard to help.

There was rain in the area Wednesday, but that also brought flash flooding from runoff on burn scars, the National Weather Service said.

“We are not out of the woods,” Grisham said, despite the change in weather.

She said there have been at least three emergency rescues, and that number was expected to grow. People should stay out of evacuation zones and never cross any floodwaters anywhere, she said.