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Cooler temps and rain over weekend mean ‘minimal fire activity’ for teams battling NM fires

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Cooler temps and rain over weekend mean ‘minimal fire activity’ for teams battling NM fires

Jun 21, 2024 | 1:49 pm ET
By Patrick Lohmann
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Cooler temps and rain over mean weekend of  ‘minimal fire activity’ for teams battling NM fires
Description
The plume of the South Fork fire seen behind the Sierra Blanca airport mixes with the storm clouds overhanging the Sacramento Mountains Thurdsday, June 20, 2024. The rain has slowed the growth of the South Fork and Salt fires surrounding Alto, Ruidoso and Ruidoso Downs, but has increased flash flooding dangers. (Danielle Prokop / Source NM)

Despite the havoc it caused this week, the huge rainstorm that fell Wednesday over Ruidoso has ushered in a short period of “minimal fire activity” on the Salt and South Fork fires, according to the latest update from teams responding to the fires. 

The South Fork Fire has grown to 16,614 acres, or about 26 square miles, an increase of a few hundred acres since June 18 at 2 p.m., according to the National Interagency Fire Center on Friday.

The Salt Fire a few miles south of the South Fork Fire reached 7,652 acres as of June 20 at 6 a.m. That’s about 12 square miles. On Thursday, it was 7,081 acres, according to an update from the Southwest Area Incident Management Team. 

The two have prompted the evacuations of about 9,000 people in total, according to fire team summaries. Two people have died, and 1,400 structures have been damaged or destroyed, according to the latest estimates.

Public records and lightning data shed new light on Salt and South Fork fire origins

Both fires are 0% contained. 

At a community briefing Thursday night, fire behavior specialist Arthur Gonzales said teams expect “very little spread” over the next few days because of the increased humidity, cloud cover and moisture that the rains brought. 

“We still have the hazards out there with fire, and still got a lot of work to do, but it’s really changed that fire behavior,” he said. “And we expect that over the next two to three days.”

More than 1,000 firefighters are in the area trying to contain the deadly blazes. 

Incident Commander Dave Gesser told the community meeting that he expects fire containment to increase over the next few days, though he said the topography of the area makes establishing a perimeter difficult. 

Fire officials said they expect the reprieve granted by rain and cool temperatures to lift early next week. But it will take a few additional days for the area to dry out enough for the fires to resume their destructive behavior, according to forecasts in reports produced by the fire teams.