Texans rally to help neighbors in New Mexico with wildfire recovery

Thousands of people who were evacuated from Ruidoso, N.M., are starting to be able to return home.

By Sarah AschJune 25, 2024 12:32 pm,

Some 29 people remain missing and unaccounted for after fires swept through the town of Ruidoso, N.M. — and Texans in the El Paso area are banding together to help their neighbor to the west.

Ruidoso residents had been evacuated since last week, but as they’re slowly being allowed to return, they’re finding hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed as search and rescue teams comb especially hard-hit parts of the city.

According to NBC News and other published accounts, the South Fork and Salt fires broke out June 17 on the Mescalero Apache Reservation. Investigators have not determined a cause.

The Salt Fire burned east and south of Ruidoso, while the South Fork Fire threatened the town to the north. By Monday, the South Fork Fire had burned more than 17,500 acres and was 37% contained, while the Salt Fire had burned about almost 8,000 acres and was about 7% contained.

Mica Short, the vice president of development for the Paso del Norte Community Foundation, said her organization has established the Wildfire Relief Fund in partnership with groups in New Mexico to help those affected.

“We recognize we aren’t there on the ground, but there are a lot of El Pasoans that have property in Ruidoso and who enjoy Ruidoso as a vacation site,” she said. “We are definitely interested and committed to helping all of our affected neighbors in the region.”

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However, Short said recovery efforts are focused on those who lost their primary residences and belongings.

“About 8,000 people have been evacuated; 1,400 structures have been lost. And it’s believed that 500 homes have been lost,” she said. “There are lots of families that have lost all of their belongings that have nothing now. And so there are groups in El Paso that have mobilized with water and Gatorade and toiletries and just basic supplies that are needed to help all of those families that have been displaced.”

Nor is the danger over, with fires still being contained and the possibility of further flare-ups.

“We know that the firefighters there are focused on mop-up operations and securing the fire perimeter. They’re conducting structural assessments where weather conditions permit,” Short said. “But yes, of course, there’s always a risk, depending on what the weather conditions are. That’s why they’re really prioritizing just the families that are permanent residents there and allowing them to have access to their properties.”

Short said there are a lot of ways for people to help both locally and across the state.

“Last week there were so many people who wanted to make contributions, but the difficulty was there was no access, so all of those items that were collected needed to be done through people who had police escorts or who had access to the site, and who also had access to frontline workers that could understand what the immediate needs were,” she said. “But yes, there are still needs for donated items.”

Locally, there are different distribution locations including the First Baptist Church in Ruidoso, the Lincoln County Fairgrounds and the Humane Society of Lincoln County.

“And there are also other communities very close to Ruidoso such as Roswell and Carrizo that have taken in families that have been displaced,” she said. “And so, there is definitely a need for volunteers at some of those sites. So if people aren’t in the position to provide donations, there are some volunteer opportunities available.”

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