Ruidoso in full-fledged recovery mode as evacuees return

Utility providers scramble to repair fire damage


Ruidoso residents returned to the village Monday after a week-long evacuation because of two major fires that destroyed parts of the community.

Evacuees found a town in full-fledged recovery mode after a number of utilities were destroyed or damaged in either the fires or flooding from recent storms that’s been made worse by burn scars, the vegetation-stripped areas that do little to slow rainfall run-off.

And, despite a turn toward cooler and wetter conditions that have helped firefighting efforts immensely, both the South Fork Fire and the Salt Fire continue to burn. About 1,000 personnel are battling the blazes.

Images residents posted to social media showed a sky dotted with clouds, a day that might have seemed picturesque, if not for a plume of smoke on the horizon.

Some streets of Ruidoso, particularly along Mechem Drive, remained blockaded, preventing widespread public access to the neighborhoods scorched in the South Fork Fire. Law enforcement have said that’s in part to investigate areas for additional fire-caused fatalities. The fire claimed at least two lives.

Authorities have cautioned residents repeatedly that services will not be at full capacity. They continued to ask that only full-time residents – not tourists or second home owners – return to the village and surrounding areas to reduce strain on utilities and public resources that have been impacted by the fires.

Repairs underway

Otero County Electric Co-op announced it had restored power to most of its customers after having to replace about 50 poles damaged by fire.

Meanwhile, Wesley Gray, executive director of field operations for PNM, told attendees at a virtual public meeting Sunday afternoon that the company needed to replace “upwards of 1,500 poles” damaged by fire in the Ruidoso area. About 2,900 customers were out of service because of it. PNM brought in 18 crews to restore power, he said.

Leslie Graham, general manager for Zia Natural Gas Company, said both the fire and floods of the past week have wreaked havoc on the company’s lines. Crews are working to find damage and repair the infrastructure. She told homeowners to not remove a lock if they find one at their meter because it’s an important step in the restoration of service, and removing it will slow the process for repairs.

Randall Camp, Lincoln County manager, said officials are putting together a plan for how to allow people from burned neighborhoods to return to their homes. He encouraged returning residents to avoid visiting burned areas out of curiosity.

“If you do come in, please don’t go looking around,” he said.

A boil water advisory is in place.

Flooding risk is high

Fire officials emphasized the flooding risk in low-lying areas remains high because small amounts of rain falling on burn scars can lead to significant run-off. More rain fell on the area Sunday.

Monday, at least one resident of the Upper Canyon was allowed to visit her home, which was still standing. However she was told she wasn’t allowed to remain because there’s no water service to the property.

Authorities discouraged drone owners from flying the devices over Ruidoso, especially in the burned areas. At issue is that the FAA has implemented a “temporary flight restriction” in the area to prevent conflicts with aircraft involved in the fire response. It’s illegal to fly drones until that’s lifted, and pilots could face legal consequences.

The Southwest Area Incident Management Team #5, the multi-agency team leading the response, reported the following numbers Monday morning for acreage burned:

  • South Fork Fire: 17,550 acres and 37% contained (compared to 17,550 and 31% contained Sunday)
  • Salt Fire: 7,800 acres and 7% contained (compared to 7,775 acres and 7% contained Sunday).

The recent storms have helped to reduce fire risk dramatically, officials said.

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