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‘It’s sad,’ says Roswell volunteer aiding South Fork Fire evacuees from Ruidoso

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Two growing forest fires burning near the Village of Ruidoso Monday night did not allow much time for Ulyessas and Chelsea Garcia to pack personal belongings and head west to Roswell after officials ordered evacuations.

No containment was announced by fire officials Tuesday for the South Fork Fire and the Salt Fire as evacuations were ordered for the entire Village of Ruidoso and Ruidoso Downs.

Evacuations were ordered for places around the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation as both fires burned a combined estimated 20,000 acres as of Tuesday morning.

Ulyessas Garcia said he was traveling back to Ruidoso after a dentist’s appointment in Alamogordo, when he saw smoke near the family residence on Sudderth Drive as evacuations were mandated.

“There was a lot of traffic (on U.S. Highway 70), we had to bail,” he said.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Tuesday declared a State of Emergency for Lincoln County, calling for increased federal and state resources for Lincoln County amid the fires. The governor said in the executive order that 500 structures were reported destroyed. Lujan Grisham pointed to similar orders issued by the Mescalero Apache Tribe and Lincoln County.

The order directed the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to coordinate any responses to requests for assistance, and ordered all cabinet departments under the control of the Governor’s Office to assist as needed. The National Guard was also deployed, under the order, to provide military support to those in need.

“The horrific South Fork Fire and Salt Fire have ravaged our lands and property, and forced thousands to flee their homes,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement accompanying the order.

“We are deploying every available resource to control these wildfires, and to provide support to the Village of Ruidoso, the Mescalero Reservation and surround areas. I extend my deepest appreciation to the courageous firefighters battling these blazes, as well as everyone who has pitched in to help a community in crisis. I urge everyone to heed official orders at all times to stay safe.”

Six locations set up in Roswell for fire evacuees

The Garcias arrived at Church on the Move in Roswell after leaving the growing fire.

Chelsea Garcia said the family joined scores of Ruidoso and Ruidoso Downs residents fleeing the fires for a space 74 miles away.

She said the temporary quarters were comfortable as the father-daughter duo could be staying in Roswell for an undetermined amount of time.

Church on the Move was one of six locations in Roswell providing temporary housing for some displaced Lincoln County residents, said City of Roswell Spokesperson Todd Wildermuth.

April Guilez, the church’s executive administrative assistant, said efforts to change the church from a place of worship to an evacuation center started around 8:30 p.m. Monday.

“We called on church volunteers to sort donations,” she said Tuesday morning as church leaders and others sifted through food, clothing, drinks and pet food supplies placed on tables in the church’s main building.

Guillez said donations brought to the church were sent to other shelters in Roswell.

Church officials estimated more than 100 people stayed Monday night into Tuesday.

“We have no idea on how long people will be here,” she said.

Church on the Move Associate Pastor Brett Shangraw said the church was there to meet the needs of all evacuees.

He said the church’s Valley Café, located across the street from the main worship center, was serving meals to those displaced by the fires.

Shangraw said the church was busing people to New Mexico Military Institute in north Roswell for showers since there are no bathing facilities.

Lead Pastor Troy Smotherman said helping evacuees took a toll on church personnel.

“It’s sad, I’ve cried several times,” he said. “It’s great to help them.”

Somtherman said church staff and volunteers provided moral and spiritual support.

He said the church was in need of snacks, toiletries and drinks. Donations may be taken to 901 West Brasher Road in Roswell. People can also call 575-622-7011 if they want to help out.

Fire relief on the way?

The National Weather Service (NWS) in Albuquerque forecasted showers, thunderstorms and cooler temperatures for the Ruidoso area through Sunday.

Wednesday’s predicted high temperature was 84 degrees cooling down to highs of 67 to 80 degrees during the forecast period.

Rain and thunderstorm chances varied through Sunday from 30% to 70%.

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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