Mark Stambaugh, owner of Angus Firewood, surveys the charred debris left after his business fell victim to the Little Bear fire near Ruidoso, on June 11. AP Photo
The Little Bear fire stands as the most destructive fire to homeowners in New Mexico history, surpassing the 235 homes burned as a result of the Cerro Grande fire in 2000. The Little Bear fire has destroyed 242 residential structures and 12 outbuildings, resulting in damages estimated at more than $22 million.
“One house is too many to lose,” said Dan Ware, New Mexico State Forestry spokesman. “And unfortunately, we live in a time right now where fires are becoming more and more dangerous. Our hearts go out to those who lost their homes. …
“Any time there is damage to property, whether it’s a home or other things on the property, it’s tragic.”
David Shell, fire information officer, commented, “On the fortunate side, no lives were lost. And I think that’s the number one thing right there. No lives were lost, and thus far, there have been only four firefighters injured. And these have all been minor injuries.”
The Little Bear fire has burned 39,458 acres and was at 60 percent containment Tuesday, as crews continued to focus on active areas of the fire.
Total personnel dipped under 1,000 on Monday for the first time in about a week, and as of Tuesday stood at 981 with 20 incident management crews. Total resources committed Tuesday included 60 fire engines, 8 helicopters and two bulldozers.
Crews began a burn out operation inside the containment line north and west of the Rio Bonito subdivision, where the fire is most active.
Weather permitting, burn outs will continue for a few more days within the White Mountain Wilderness. On the remainder of the fire, crews performed patrol, mop up and rehabilitation in all divisions.
Crews placed black line as far south as Argentina Spring earlier this week, and continued black line and containment work Tuesday near White Horse Hill.
“The progress has been phenomenal in terms of how much has been accomplished in just this week alone,” said Wayne Johnson, fire information officer. “We put in probably close to 20 miles of fire line, so that’s incredible progress. And not only put it in, but mopped it up so that all of those fire lines can be considered contained, which is why you see the containment jump steadily five or more percent.
Johnson said crews feel progress made this week will likely be sufficient enough to transition back to a Type 3 incident management team by Saturday. He said that while the risk the fire poses to communities in the area has been significantly reduced, hot spots in the area remain a concern.
“When a fire goes through the way it did really fast, a lot of times all it does is brown the leaves, particularly in hardwood species,” Johnson said. “Then as they dry out, they drop to the ground, and that creates a potential fire fuel. If there’s a hot spot in there, that could reignite, and if the wind picked up some of those leaves that had been ignited, they may carry far enough to reach across the line. So there is a level of risk out there, but it’s greatly, greatly reduced.”
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.
For information about shelters and emergency assistance, contact the American Red Cross in New Mexico at 800-560-2302. Donations can be made at RedCrossNewMexico.org or wffoundation.org.