UPDATE 6/18 11:00AM:
Firefighters say they are continuing to take advantage of favorable weather conditions to battle a wildfire in southern New Mexico that has destroyed 242 homes and businesses.
Meanwhile, officials said Monday that the ranging blaze in the Gila Wilderness, already the largest wildfire in state history, grew another 1,000 acres and is now 463 square miles. That fire is 80 percent contained.
More than 1,100 firefighters remained Monday in Ruidoso as they fight to hold the Little Bear Fire that is now 60 percent contained. Officials say that relative humidity of 25 percent is helping crews tame the fire that is around 60 square miles.
But wind gusts of possibly 25 mph are expected Monday afternoon forcing nearby residents to see more smoke.
UPDATE 6/15 7:00 AM:
Some residents evacuated from their mountain homes by a fire raging outside the resort town of Ruidoso have begun returning to their neighborhoods.
Officials say the Little Bear fire, which has scorched 58 square miles and destroyed at least 224 homes in the Sierra Blanca range, has been 40 percent contained and firefighters will continue building lines to contain the fire Thursday. But they note sunny, dry weather will result in more active fire behavior and an increase in visible smoke.
Meantime, crews battling the largest fire in state history say they now have that 56 percent contained. The Whitewater-Baldy fire has scorched 452 square miles of the Gila Wilderness since it was started by lightning on May 16.
UPDATE 6/12 7:15 PM:
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez declared a state of emergency today as the 56-square-mile Little Bear fire threatened more neighborhoods. Officials say at least 224 homes have been destroyed and the blaze is now 35% contained.
Assessment teams are still inspecting the damage and officials say they expect the numbers to grow. "Some of the neighborhoods have so many hot spots that they have not been able to go in to assess the damage," said Kerry Gladden, public information officer for the Village of Ruidoso.
Nearly 1000 people have been evacuated and Gladden says crews are strengthening fire-lines to prevent the blaze from destroying more homes.
UPDATE 6/12 11:00 AM:
Firefighters battling a blaze near the southern New Mexico resort town of Ruidoso say they have cooler, slightly more humid weather Tuesday that they hope will enable them to continue making progress against the Little Bear fire.
Nearly 1,000 firefighters and more than 200 National Guardsmen are battling the blaze, which has grown to 56 square miles. Crews have built 25 miles of containment lines and are concentrating on the northern edge of the fire, which has forced hundreds of residents from their homes north of Ruidoso.
The fire is about 30 percent contained, but the town of Ruidoso remains on alert for possible evacuation.
An estimated 35 structures have been damaged or destroyed by the blaze, and fire managers expect that number to grow once damage assessments are done.
UPDATE 6/11 5:00 PM:
The Little Bear fire was sparked by lighting last week and gusty winds quickly caused the blaze to grow to over 34,000 acres. Fire information officer Karen Takai says it's burning between 2 and 5 miles from the community of Ruidoso.
From The Albuquerque Journal (includes a list of evacuation information):
On Saturday morning, crews estimated that the Little Bear Fire was about 10,000 acres. The fire grew slightly Saturday night, but more accurate mapping showed by Sunday morning that it was actually 2 1/2 times bigger than thought, Crim said.
About 45 evacuees spent the night in Red Cross shelters in those two towns, according to a news release from the American Red Cross of New Mexico. Many more went to the shelters for food while they stayed at hotels or with family and friends.
Gov. Susana Martinez was in Ruidoso on Sunday to meet with fire crews and attend public information meetings with residents. She will be staying in Ruidoso for the next three days. At a meeting Sunday she told KOAT-TV that fires like Little Bear would be under control more quickly and easily were it not for “environmentalists” who have used lawsuits to prevent federal officials from managing the forest.
Martinez on Saturday ordered 100 National Guard soldiers and two Black Hawk helicopters to provide security and enforce evacuation orders resulting from the fire.
In the next few days, weather conditions are expected to become a bit more favorable with an increase in moisture, lower temperatures, and winds that may blow the fire back onto itself.
Damage crews are on the ground to gather details about 35 structures that have been damaged or destroyed.
From Ruidoso News:
A more accurate estimate of the 35 structures believed to have been destroyed in the Little Bear Fire could be tallied in the next day or two. Damage assessments that started today suggest the damage could be quite extensive.
The first location to be reviewed was the Bonita Park Nazarene Conference Center and Campgrounds. Lincoln County Assessor Paul Baca said just about all the cabins in the park were gone. The Church of the Nazarene was not damaged.
Other areas believed to have fire damage include the Angus area near Highway 48, the Villa Madonna and Ranches de Sonterra areas, and some subdivisions off Highway 37.