A house, unscathed by the Little Bear fire in the White Mountain Wilderness of the Lincoln National Forest, sits dangerously close to the blaze, Tuesday. Mark Wilson Photo
A break from unfavorable weather conditions allowed for progress in suppression efforts of the Little Bear fire, which as of Tuesday evening was 30 percent contained. Lighter wind speeds, higher humidity, lower temperatures, cloud cover and a boost in personnel and equipment have contributed to partial containment. The fire was estimated at 36,242 acres, located in the Smokey Bear Ranger District, Lincoln National Forest, including the White Mountain Wilderness, and has destroyed 224 residential structures and 10 outbuildings.
Personnel more than doubled from the weekend, rising from 429 to 979 by Tuesday, and resources committed included 24 incident management crews, 53 engines, 12 helicopters, 12 dozers and nine water tenders.
The Little Bear fire still poses strong potential for extreme fire behavior despite recent progress, according to Fire Information Officer Karen Takai.
“There’s still very active fire activity within the parameter of the fire, so there’s still a high risk in the area,” Takai said, Tuesday.
“With that said, containment and checks and balances are in place in most of the area except as we head toward the wilderness. But within the communities of Ruidoso and Capitan, there has been a lot of work in those areas, and we’re continuing to strengthen lines throughout the day.
“We’re telling the communities to be prepared because you never know. But again our lines around that area are really strong — we’re holding
them, and we’re definitely looking a lot better than what we did a few days ago.”
Gov. Susana Martinez declared a state of emergency in Lincoln County, signing an executive order on Tuesday that makes additional emergency funds and resources available from the state for fire operations and community needs.
“While fire crews are working around the clock to protect lives and property, the Little Bear fire has already taken an enormous toll on Lincoln County,” Martinez stated. “This emergency declaration will ensure that we are allocating every available resource to help prevent further damage. We are fully committed to fighting this fire and doing everything we can to keep Lincoln County residents safe.”
On Monday, air tankers dropped 25 loads of retardant on the fire, and helicopters dropped water throughout the day. A direct line was established around the Ski Apache Resort and Eagle Lake area, and crews secured a line on the northeast flank into Nogal Canyon. Approximately 25 miles of dozer line was in place by that evening on the eastern edge. On the southeastern flank, a dozer line was improved and tied in with NM 232. All planned burn outs went well, and a contingency line was constructed south of and parallel to NM 532.
On Tuesday, crews continued work on the west end of the fire, improving the trail network as a containment line. Firefighters continued building a line into Nogal Canyon on the northwest flank. On the north end, crews improved the fire line west from NM 37, and assessed preparation work along the dozer line for possible burn out. On the east and southeast sides, firefighters patrolled and mopped up along the completed dozer line. Along the southern flank, line crews continued line preparation along NM 532, moving west and burning out as they went. On the southwest corner, firefighters continued contingency line construction and burn out to the line.
Road closures include NM 532 (Ski Run Road) at mile marker 3, east and west; NM 48 from Ruidoso to mile marker 15, north and south; and NM 37 from mile marker 0 to mile marker 8, north and south. Area closures include the entire White Mountain Wilderness, and the Smokey Bear Ranger District south of NM 380 to the Mescalero Apache Reservation boundary, including a large area east and north of Ruidoso to the south boundary of the Fort Stanton Recreation Area.
Evacuations include all campgrounds west of Bonito Lake, subdivisions of Villa Madonna, Enchanted Forest, Nogal Canyon (Forest Road 400, campground and summer homes), Angus, Sierra Vista, Sonterra (1, 2 and 3), Copper Canyon and Loma Grande, Eagle Lakes Campground, Eagle Creek summer homes, NM 532 at mile marker 3, State Highway 48 to Capitan, State Highway 37 to Highway 380, and Ski Apache.
Shelters include Ruidoso High School and Trinity Baptist Church in Capitan. Pets and livestock can be taken to the fairgrounds in Capitan and Pet Paradise in La Luz. Evacuees can register at the shelters or online at safeandwell.communityos.org.
For information about shelters and emergency assistance, contact the American Red Cross in New Mexico at 800-560-2302. Donations can be made at redcross.org or RedCrossNewMexico.org.