Douglas Siddens’ mother was among those who made it with clothes on his back when a deadly, wind-fueled fire engulfed a mountain community in southern New Mexico.
The RV Park where he lived was reduced to “metal-framed rails and steel wheels,” said Sidens, who manages the site.
“About 10 of me were displaced. They lost their home and everything, including my mother, “he said.
The blaze has destroyed more than 200 homes and killed two since a fire broke out near the village of Ruidoso on Tuesday, a holiday that attracts thousands of tourists and horse racing fans every summer.
There are hundreds of houses and summer cabins along the surrounding hills. An elderly couple was found dead outside their burnt-out residence this week near the RV Park run by Siddens.
Elsewhere in the United States, crews are battling major wildfires this week in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado, where a new fire broke out Friday along the eastern front of Rocky Mountain near Lyon, about 18 miles (29 kilometers) north of Boulder.
The blaze broke out at Blue Mountain, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Estes Park, the eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, near the Larimer-Boulder County Line.
In New Mexico, power was restored to all but a few hundred customers, but evacuation orders remain in place for about 5,000 people.
Grants have been poured in from nearby communities which are very familiar with how devastating wildfires can be.
The fire, which spread to parts of the village of Ruidoso a decade ago, puts the holiday site on the map with the most devastating wildfires recorded in New Mexico’s history when more than 240 homes were burned and about 70 square miles (181 sq km) were blackened by lightning.
On Friday, Mayor Lynn Crawford was again gathering heartbreaking residents as firefighters tried to stop the wind-whip flame from creating another race in the village. He said the response from their neighbors has been amazing.
“So we have plenty of food, we have lots of clothes, we have these kinds of things but we still appreciate your prayers and your thinking and need,” the mayor said during a briefing. “Again, our hearts go out to the families of the dead, to those who lost their homes.”
Authorities have not yet released the names of the dead couple. Concerned family members contacted police and found their bodies, the couple had planned to evacuate when the fire broke out on Tuesday but their accounts were not found later that day.
Although many older residents call Ruidoso home all year round, the population of about 8,000 people expands to about 25,000 during the summer months as Texans and New Mexicans seek rest from the hot climate.
Fans also flock to Ruidoso Downs, one of the sport’s richest quarter-horse competitions. The racing season is expected to begin on May 27, and the horses are safe, as firefighters use the facility as a stage.
Part-time residents have been on social media for the past few days, requesting fire officials for updates on certain neighborhoods, hoping their family cabins were not among those damaged or destroyed.
Hotlines lit up on Friday afternoon when villagers called for more smoke to be reported. Fire Information Officer Mike Defridge said there were flames inside the fire because the flames found pockets of incomplete fuel.
Although the fire did not make a run on the lines that line crews had set up, he said it was still a difficult day for firefighters due to the single-digit humidity, warm temperatures and wind.
Authorities reiterated that it was too early to begin letting people see the damage. They said to be patient as the fire crew pulled out the hot spots and tried to create a stronger enclosure around the fire.
“It’s still an active fire area there and it’s not a safe place,” DeFries said. “It simply came to our notice then. At the same time, every step we take is designed to put out the fire and get people back home as soon as possible. “
New Mexico authorities say they suspect the fire, which burned more than 9.5 square miles (24 square kilometers) of forest and grass, was sparked by a power line, and an investigation continued Friday.
Firefighters say hot and dry weather has contributed to the increase in the number of acres burned by fires over decades. The problem has been exacerbated by more than 20 years of western erosion that have been linked to man-made climate change studies.
Cedar Attanasio contributed to the report from Santa Fe. Atanasio is a corps member of the Associated Press / Report for the America State House News Initiative. Reporting for America is a non-profit national service program that puts journalists in the local newsroom to cover things.