A thunderstorm over New Mexico wildfire could bring some relief

Updated

A thunderstorm headed toward the smoky skies over New Mexico could force firefighters to retreat from their positions at the front lines of a deadly wildfire, fire officials said Thursday.

But it could also have the opposite effect and aid the battle, depending on how much rain drops, they said.

The wildfire, a combination of two fires that merged since igniting Monday, has burned through 23,406 acres near the mountain town of Ruidoso with 0% containment, according to the latest estimates by New Mexico Fire Information.

The fire has killed two people and destroyed 500 homes and some 1,400 structures, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. About 8,000 people who live in the area have been ordered to evacuate.

One of the two people killed was identified as Patrick Pearson, 60, who was found on the side of a road near the Swiss Chalet Motel with burn injuries, New Mexico State Police said. The name of the other victim has not been released.

Officials said they were unsure whether the storm that was expected to move in Thursday would improve the situation for the 824 firefighters and support staffers on the front lines.

Heavy rain could douse it and help firefighters slow its destructive path, said Dave Shell, public information officer for the incident management team overseeing the fire.

But it could also create wind patterns that could push the fire in different directions, forcing crews to retreat, he said.

Wildfires destroyed 1400 structures in village of Ruidoso, New Mexico (Omar Ornelas / Anadolu via Getty Images)
Wildfires destroyed 1400 structures in village of Ruidoso, New Mexico (Omar Ornelas / Anadolu via Getty Images)

“It’s all contingent on where the storm dumps the rain,” Shell said. “It’s a double-edged sword.”

The upcoming storm is unrelated to recent flooding that hit the area, said Andrew Mangham, a senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. But some of its moisture could be remnants of Alberto, which weakened from a tropical storm to a depression and made landfall Thursday on Mexico’s Gulf Coast.

The storm is expected to hit Ruidoso between 3 p.m. and midnight Thursday with southeast winds of 10 to 15 mph, according to the National Weather Service. A flood watch was also in effect through Friday at 6 a.m.

Since the fires began Monday, firefighters have been working to build a fire line between it and the town, officials said.

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