'New Mexico burns': Thousands of residents evacuated after wildfires in the US

Residents of a mountain town in southern New Mexico fled their homes due to a evacuation order with little time to rescue their belongings, while several forest fires quickly loomed over the town of 7,000 people.

Traffic jammed the streets of the town of Ruidoso for hours, this Monday, June 18, normally pastoral and used as a vacation destination, while smoke darkened the evening sky, and flames 30 meters high ascended a mountain range. On Tuesday morning, the city's webcams showed a deserted main street, with smoke still spreading into the sky.

“LEAVE NOW: Do not try to gather belongings or protect your home. Evacuate immediately,” the Ruidoso authorities indicated on their website and on social networks, at 7 p.m.

Accountant Steve Jones said he and his wife evacuated overnight when emergency crews came to their door and thick smoke filled the Ruidoso Valley, making breathing difficult.

“We had a 55 km/h wind that carried the fire along the mountain range; We could literally see 100-foot flames,” said Jones, who moved into a mobile home. “That's why consumed such a large area”.

He said cell phone service and internet failed while the evacuation was underway, and residents tuned to the radio for updates, packed their belongings and drove out of Ruidoso, which is about 130 miles southeast of Albuquerque.

“The cars were going very close to each other, slowly, and people's nerves got a little rattled,” he said.

The Public Service Company of New Mexico turned off power to part of the town because of the fire, which spanned about 35 square miles and was not contained, city and forestry officials said Tuesday morning. The state Forestry Division said several structures were threatened and several of them had been lost. A section of Highway 70 south of town had been closed.

“We were getting ready to sit down to eat and the alert came: Evacuate now, don't take anything or think about packing anything, just evacuate,” Mary Lou Minic told KOB-TV. “And within three, five minutes, we were in the car, leaving.”

The South Fork Fire began on the Mescalero Apache Reservation, where the tribal chairman issued an executive order declaring the state of emergency. The fire was advancing across reservation and US Forest Service lands around Ruidoso.

A second fire, called the Salt Fire, was burning on the Mescalero reservation and southwest of Ruidoso. As of Tuesday morning, it reached 19.6 square kilometers and was not contained, according to the forestry division.

Ruidoso is located about 121 kilometers west of Roswell, where several evacuation centers have been set up.

The smoke caused a air quality alert due to harmful levels in Ruidoso and surrounding areas.

In California, firefighters have increased containment of a large fire burning in steep, hard-to-reach areas in the mountains north of Los Angeles, officials said. But Tuesday's hot, dry, windy weather could pose a challenge to their efforts.