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Wildfire in New Mexico village claims at least one life, forces thousands to evacuate their homes

At least one person has died as wildfires swept into a village in southern New Mexico, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes.

People left Ruidoso under evacuation orders with little time to rescue belongings as huge flames destroyed or damaged more than 500 structures, New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said.

Her office confirmed the fire had killed one person, but not share any details.

She previously said that the village’s entire population of 7,000 people had been evacuated.

A message on the local government website for Rudioso read: “GO NOW: Do not attempt to gather belongings or protect your home. Evacuate immediately.”

Mrs Grisham declared a state of emergency in the south of New Mexico and deployed additional National Guard troops to the area.

The magnitude of the fires is beyond local control and requires immediate state intervention to protect public health, safety and welfare, the governor said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

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One of the wildfires, named the South Fork Fire, started on Monday on the Mescalero Apache Reservation in New Mexico, where the tribal president issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency. It was burning on tribal and US Forest Service land within areas surrounding Ruidoso.

A second fire, called the Salt Fire, also was burning on the Mescalero reservation and southwest of Ruidoso. It was more than 7.6 square miles (19.6 square kilometres) as of Tuesday morning with no containment, the forestry division said.

“The horrific South Fork Fire and Salt Fire have ravaged our lands and property, and forced thousands to flee their homes,” Mrs Grisham said. “We are deploying every available resource to control these fires.”

Thousands have to flee Rudioso. Pic: Reuters
Thousands have to flee Rudioso. Pic: Reuters

Accountant Steve Jones said he and his wife fled overnight as emergency crews arrived at their doorstep and dense smoke filled the Ruidoso valley, making it difficult to breathe.

“We had a 40mph wind that was taking this fire all along the ridge, we could literally see 100ft flames,” said Mr Jones, who relocated in a camper. “That’s why it consumed so much acreage.”

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A burned out car is seen after wildfire swept through parts of southern New Mexico. Pic: Reuters
A burned out car is seen after wildfire swept through parts of southern New Mexico. Pic: Reuters

He said mobile and internet service failed with the evacuation underway, while villagers tuned into AM radio for updates, packed up belongings and drove from Ruidoso, which is about 130 miles south east of Albuquerque.

“The traffic became bumper-to-bumper, slow-moving, and people’s nerves became a little jangled,” he said.

Public Service Company of New Mexico shut off power to part of the village due to the fire, which was estimated to be about 22 square miles (56 square kilometres) with 0% containment, forestry and village officials said on Tuesday morning.

The state forestry division said multiple structures were threatened and a number have been lost. A portion of US Highway 70 was closed south of the village.

A firefighter tackles a wildfire in California. Pic: Reuters
A firefighter tackles a wildfire in California. Pic: Reuters

The Village of Ruidoso is about 75 miles (121 kilometres) west of Roswell, where several evacuation centres were set up.

An air quality alert was issued for very unhealthy air in Ruidoso and surrounding areas due to smoke.

It comes as tens of millions of people were affected by stifling heat across the United States on Tuesday.

Extreme heat alerts stretched from Iowa to Ohio and even into the upper reaches of Michigan, with the National Weather Service saying a dangerous heat wave was expected to make its way across the country and into Maine until at least Friday.

In California, wildfires erupted east of San Francisco in the state’s historic Gold Country region and in the mountains of northern Los Angeles County after what had been a quiet start to fire season.

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