Considerable progress made along the southern end of the Little Bear fire contributed to yet another five percent increase in its containment Friday, as firefighters continue to build containment lines and cool off the fire front. The fire, 45 percent contained, remains about 38,000 acres, and has destroyed 224 residential structures and 10 outbuildings.
Total personnel continued to climb, reaching 1,449 by Friday morning, with 37 incident management crews, 85 fire engines, 12 helicopters and 16 bulldozers.
The main focus for firefighters Friday was patrol and cleanup on the south, east and north sides of the fire. Indirect line construction continued on the west and northwest flanks, where the fire is most active, with support from helicopter water drops.
“A lot of the progress that was made (Thursday) was along the southern end with burn outs where they’ve been mopping up. Those areas are now secure,” said Dan Ware, spokesman for New Mexico Forestry Division. “It’s just the same hard work that’s been going on all week. … We’ve had a lot of really great firefighters up here, and despite any adverse weather conditions, they’re able to get this work done. It just says a lot about their professionalism, and their abilities. There are years and years and years of experience up on that mountain right now.”
Although the second straight day of dry, hot weather Friday resulted in the flare-up of previously unburned fuel within the interior of the effected area creating some smoke in the afternoon, smoke within the community of Ruidoso has been subsiding, Ware said. “This morning in Ruidoso you could hardly see any (smoke), so there’s not much to talk about as far as smoke here. Obviously, people feel really good about that.
But we don’t want them to think this fire is a done deal, by any stretch of the imagination. There’s still a lot of heat out there.”
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office resumed property owner notification Friday, and has opened its information center in Ruidoso at the Lincoln County Annex, 115 Kansas City Drive. People looking for information about their homes can also call 258-INFO (4636).
Michele Caskey, Lincoln County public information officer, said that as time progresses, the information center will also be able to provide information regarding the activities of organizations like FEMA and the American Red Cross.
About 300 evacuated property owners were registered with the Red Cross earlier this week, with some having already returned to their homes, Caskey said. She said that at this time the county estimates that a little less than half of the 224 homes lost in the fire are permanent, full-time residences, and that the remaining would fall into the categories of part-time, vacation residences.
Caskey said the county aims to personally speak with each individual who has experienced damage or loss. She said that after the Kokopelli fire in 2002, displaced property owners learned the fate of their homes on lists posted in a public place, and that the county is determined to change course.
“This is one of the most important, tragic things that could happen to a person,” Caskey said. “So we’re treating these notifications just like we would death notifications. … We just feel like that’s the right thing to do. This is very sad, tragic, catastrophic news, and we take it very seriously.
“And we have really just begun. There’s still well over 100 still to contact.
“… What we are really trying to avoid is somebody returning home without us notifying them, and they just drive up to where their house was, and it’s not there anymore. Then they’re all alone — they’re on the street, and their house isn’t there, and we just feel like we have to do a better job than that. We don’t want them to be in shock all alone out on the street.”
Nonperishable foods, toiletries, cleaning supplies, small appliances, towels and blankets can be taken to Valley Bank of Commerce, 217 W. Second St., from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call Jennifer Sanchez at 626-4741.
Road closures include NM 532 at NM 48 junction, east and west, and NM 37 from mile marker 0 to mile marker 8, north and south. NM 48 has reopened for through traffic. 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, Copper Canyon, Loma Grande, Eagle Lakes Campground and Eagle Creek summer homes.
Shelters include Ruidoso High School and Trinity Baptist Church in Capitan. Evacuees can register at the shelters or online at safeandwell.communityos.org.
Pets and livestock can be taken to the Lincoln County Fairgrounds in Capitan, Pet Paradise in La Luz, Otero County Fairgrounds in Alamogordo, Carrizozo Animal Shelter and Thundering Paws in Alto. In Ruidoso, pets and livestock can be taken to the Humane Society, Ruidoso Animal Clinic and Dunagan Farms.
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.