Arizona’s Hopi 5 Hotshot Ian Nuvamsa, at left, watches as teammate Peterson Hubbard, cuts a burning stump while battling the Little Bear fire near Ruidoso, on Monday. AP Photo
Firefighters continued to build on progress made earlier this week in suppression efforts of the Little Bear fire, which as of Wednesday was 37,520 acres and 35 percent contained. Damage assessment of the fire is ongoing but remains substantially complete after emergency management personnel entered portions of the burned area Tuesday, and stands at 224 residential structures and 10 outbuildings destroyed.
Total personnel increased Wednesday to 1,170, with 28 incident management crews, and resources committed included 74 fire engines, 11 helicopters, 12 bulldozers and 18 water tenders.
Dan Ware, spokesman for the New Mexico State Forestry Division, said most of the progress has been made on the far north and south ends of the fire. “The southern end is where the largest amount of containment was gained. Basically, the southern end was buttoning up an area to keep the fire from moving south, toward the upper canyon area and into Ruidoso.
“Up north, the weather was such that the firefighters were actually able to attack the line directly and get in there and just build in their containment lines near the fire line, instead of having to pull back however far away.
“The most active area is on the western flank, the west and northwest flank — that’s where they’re focusing their arial attack to support the firefighters on the ground. They go in there, drop some retardant, draw a line and then the fighters on the ground work from there to contain the fire from getting past that point.”
Ware said crews were able to take advantage of Wednesday’s heat and humidity. “At first blush (the weather) sounds bad because it’s more dry and it’s hotter, but in reality, we’re going to use those weather conditions to our advantage. It’s going to allow us to see any hot spots with a little more clarity. … The hot spots make themselves more evident, smoldering a little more strongly. So we use that and then we send the crews to attack them more efficiently.”
FEMA approved a request from the state of New Mexico for a fire management assistance grant on Wednesday. Eligible costs covered by the aid can include expenses for mobilization and demobilization activities, field camps, equipment use, repair and replacement, tools, materials and supplies.
The New Mexico Tourism Department joined the Ruidoso lodging industry to provide discounted and free hotel room rates to those displaced by the fire. For a list of discounted lodging opportunities, visit nmindustrypartners.org or call 257-7395.
The process of notifying displaced property owners is still being worked out, and a Type 3 incident management crew from Texas is on its way to head those procedures, Ware said. “Obviously, it’s a very, very sensitive issue. It’s not something you just want to drop in their laps.
“We’re considering this almost like an incident within an incident. So this team from Texas, once they get established here in the next few days, will be dealing with a lot of the homeowner issues. So once the initial announcements are made, then the team will be helping us deal with the aftermath.”
While damage assessment numbers are officially incomplete, Ware said he expects the numbers to stay close to the latest estimate. “There are still a few small areas, small pockets of neighborhood areas that are just not quite accessible yet safety-wise. … But right now, it looks like most of the assessment has been complete. It’s still going to probably be a few days before we can get those assessors into those other areas.”
Ware said crews have been dealing with many misconceptions of late, with perhaps none more damaging than the idea that Ruidoso is entirely inaccessible.
“Because of the news and the proximity of this fire, some folks think this fire is directly affecting Ruidoso, and it really isn’t. There are no closures in town other than on Highway 48 out of town up toward Capitan. So we want folks to continue to come up here. I’m standing by the golf course, I’m watching people golf; I’m seeing some moms walk their kids down the sidewalk here, so life is going on. Right now, Ruidoso is in good shape.”
Road closures include NM 532 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.