No human remains are found as search crews comb rubble from New Mexico wildfires

No human remains have been found after search and rescue crews combed through 1,300 damaged and destroyed structures in a New Mexico mountain community hit hard by a pair of wildfires.

Authorities made the announcement Wednesday evening during a public meeting, easing the concerns of many who had been working to whittle down a list of people who were unaccounted for in the wake of evacuations that came with little warning.

The teams — with the help of specially trained dogs — spent the last few days going property to property, coming up with nothing but debris in areas where whole neighborhoods were reduced to ash and charred vehicles lined driveways or were buried under twisted metal carports.

Ruidoso Mayor Lynn Crawford also confirmed that there were now zero names left on the list of those who had been unaccounted for following the evacuations. Early on, authorities confirmed two fire-related deaths.

The mayor and other officials talked about work being done to ensure the drinking water system and electrical services can be restored at homes that were spared. Utility officials said miles of lines will have to be replaced and there are estimates that more than 1,300 power poles need to be replaced.

“It’s going to be a long effort and this is just the beginning,” Crawford told the audience, promising that officials were working to help businesses reopen so that Ruidoso’s economic engine could start humming again.

The community has about 8,000 permanent residents but that population can easily triple in the summer when tourists are looking to escape to the Sacramento Mountains or visit the Ruidoso Downs Race Track to watch the horses run.

The track, its owners and members of the horse racing industry have created a special fund aimed at raising money to help with recovery efforts throughout the community, while donations have been pouring in from around New Mexico.

Firefighters reported Wednesday evening that the threat from flames was all but quenched with the help of rain over recent days. Fire managers were using drones to identify any remaining heat within the interior of the fires.

Brad Johnson, a member of the incident command team overseeing firefighting efforts, described it as a mission to “seek and destroy” all of those hot spots.

Forecasters said storms that have popped up so far have not tracked directly over vulnerable areas. Still, they warned that if the showers expected over the next two days cross impacted areas, flash flooding will become a serious concern.

The New Mexico fires are among others burning in the western U.S., and the latest maps from the National Interagency Fire Center show above normal chances for significant wildland fire potential across a large swath of New Mexico, throughout Hawaii and in parts of other western states heading into July and through August.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up