Firefighting personnel top 1K as FBI investigates Ruidoso wildfires - Albuquerque Business First (2024)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is helping investigate the cause of wildfires that have burned approximately 24,000 acres around the Ruidoso area, as the number of personnel responding to the blazes surpassed 1,000 on Thursday.

The FBI has joined the ongoing investigation into what sparked the South Fork and Salt fires, Margot Cravens, public affairs officer for the bureau's Albuquerque division, confirmed Friday. The pair of fires started on the Mescalero Apache Reservation south and west of the Village of Ruidoso on Monday and have spread to just over 24,000 acres combined as of Friday morning.

Cravens said the bureau couldn't provide additional details on the status of the investigation but asked anyone with information pertaining to the cause of the fires to contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI or online at tips.fbi.gov.

"The FBI works in collaboration with Tribal police and other law enforcement agencies to investigate crimes and enforce laws that occur within its jurisdiction on Tribal lands," Cravens said in an emailed statement Friday.

Source New Mexico reported Thursday some incident reports have listed "human" as the cause of the two fires, although officials told the publication that listing is a system error and that the cause is still under investigation. Source New Mexico's reporting also shows "there were few lightning strikes in the area in the days before the fire began."

The pair of fires remain 0% contained, according to a Friday morning update from Southwest Area Incident Management Team 5, which is managing the wildfire response. The fires "experienced minimal fire behavior" Thursday because of rain and high humidity on Wednesday and Thursday, the report reads, with the Salt Fire — located almost entirely on the Mescalero Apache Reservation south of the Village of Ruidoso and Ruidoso Downs — growing by about 600 acres Thursday.

Lincoln County, Mescalero Apache Tribe begin federal assistance requests

President Joe Biden on Thursday afternoon approved a Wednesday request from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to declare the ongoing wildfires a major disaster, which unlocked federal funds for the state, Lincoln County and the Mescalero Apache Tribe through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

FEMA reimburses state, Lincoln County and Mescalero Apache Tribe expenditures on emergency work and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged facilities. Reimbursem*nts are run through the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management's Emergency Operations Center.

Danielle Silva, public information officer for Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM), said Friday the Department has already received reimbursem*nt forms for FEMA assistance, and the Emegency Operations Center has a staff person assigned to help County and Tribal officials create reimbursem*nt forms, as well.

There isn't a specific cap on reimbursem*nt dollars, Silva added — "what we need, we are getting."

A Thursday release from the Governor's Office notes the office and DHSEM "continue to work with the Biden administration to get Otero County included in the disaster declaration."

Impacted individuals, households and businesses can apply for FEMA assistance online or by phone at 1-800-621-3362.

The federal support comes after Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency in New Mexico on Tuesday and permitted the deployment of the state's National Guard to the affected area. The Mescalero Apache Tribal Council also declared a state of emergency on the reservation.

Lujan Grisham, in a press conference in Roswell on Wednesday night, called the fires some of "the most devastating fires in New Mexico's history." The state launched a dashboard to track the fires on Thursday.

The fires have burned an estimated 1,400 structures and officially claimed two lives.

Weather conditions could help contain wildfire spread

Cooler temperatures, higher relative humidity and light winds are expected around the wildfire area Friday, with the potential for more storms in the afternoon that could bring heavy rain, flash flooding and debris flows.

The Incident Management Team expects "moderated fire weather going forward" based on a six-day graphical forecast, Tom Bird, the incident meteorologist, said during a public meeting on Thursday evening.

"That really does work in our benefit," Bird said.

Arthur Gonzales, a fire behavior analyst for the Incident Management Team, said during the meeting the fires have "lost momentum" because of moisture Thursday, and he added the Team expects "very little lateral movement" and fire spread over the next two to three days.

"As folks are looking for information, what we're really focusing on at this point is when might we see that return to active fire spread?" Gonzales said.

Weather conditions have impacted some firefighting efforts, David Shell, public information officer for the Southwest Area Incident Management Team, said Thursday. Firefighters have to be pulled from areas impacted by thunderstorms, flash flooding or debris flow.

There are 1,006 personnel responding to the fires as of Friday morning, the Management Team's update shows, with 22 total crews, 87 engines, 15 dozers and 16 water tenders being utilized in the response.

There are currently 15 shelters open in the Roswell, Capitan, Alamogordo, Mescalero and Carrizozo areas, the American Red Cross of New Mexico said Thursday. Red Cross New Mexico is accepting financial donations online.

Utility services remain shut down across the wildfire areas. Around 50 electrical poles have been burned by the fires, the Otero County Electric Cooperative Inc. said in a Facebook post Thursday.

Mandatory evacuation orders for the Village of Ruidoso and the City of Ruidoso remain in effect. Thousands of residents from the Mescalero Apache Reservation, Ruidoso, Ruidoso Downs and surrounding areas have been displaced, with most fleeing to emergency centers and other shelter locations in and around Alamogordo and Roswell.

Firefighting personnel top 1K as FBI investigates Ruidoso wildfires - Albuquerque Business First (2024)

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