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2 dead, 1,400 structures destroyed in New Mexico wildfires

View of smoke from the South Fork Fire as seen Wednesday from Capitan, New Mexico. The wildfires, which ignited Monday, have killed two people, destroyed 1,400 structures and led to the evacuation of the entire village of Ruidoso. Photo by Ramsay de Give/EPA-EFE/
View of smoke from the South Fork Fire as seen Wednesday from Capitan, New Mexico. The wildfires, which ignited Monday, have killed two people, destroyed 1,400 structures and led to the evacuation of the entire village of Ruidoso. Photo by Ramsay de Give/EPA-EFE/

June 19 (UPI) -- Wildfires burning in New Mexico have claimed two lives in Ruidoso, where 1,400 structures were destroyed after an estimated 8,000 people fled the area.

A 60-year-old man was found dead on the side of a road, outside the Swiss Chalet Inn in Ruidoso in Lincoln County -- about 200 miles south of Albuquerque -- with "numerous burns from the fire," said New Mexico State Police spokesman Wilson Silver.

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A second body was found inside of a burned vehicle, also in Ruidoso, according to Silver.

The South Fork Fire has burned 16,335 acres of Mescalero Tribal Land, U.S. Forest Service land and Ruidoso. The Salt Fire has torched 7,071 acres. Both fires have combined to cover more than 36 square miles with 0% containment as rain moved into the area Wednesday.

"Fire crews, heavy equipment and additional resources will continue building fire lines on both the South Fork and Salt fires while air resources will assist from the sky with ongoing water and retardant drops," said New Mexico State Forestry Division spokesman George Ducker.

"Changing wind direction and potential for afternoon thunderstorms could create challenging conditions for firefighters in the air and on the ground," he added.

The National Weather Service of Albuquerque issued a flood alert Wednesday afternoon for Lincoln County, where up to an inch of a rain could bring some relief, with another system forecast for Thursday night into Friday.

"It's both bad news and good news, from a weather perspective," New Mexico State Forester Laura McCarthy told reporters. "It also means that this fire is going to be dynamic, at least until we see what rainfall amounts materialize."

Evacuations in the village of Ruidoso began Monday as police ordered all residents to "please do not try to gather belongings or protect your home -- go now!" By Wednesday, officers were working to evacuate nearby Ruidoso Downs.

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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency and ordered the evacuations for Ruidoso and area tribal lands.

"The number of New Mexicans who, on their own, are helping and are offering up their own homes for shelter shows me, once again, the generosity and compassion of the people in this state," Grisham said.

As investigators work to determine what caused this week's fires in New Mexico, crews have been battling up to eleven fires in California.

Evacuations were ordered in the town of Copperopolis, southwest of Sacramento. The Aero Fire, which is 33% contained, has burned more than 5,000 acres.

The Sites Fire, which is 5% contained, is burning in Colusa County -- about 100 miles north of San Francisco -- and has consumed more than 15,000 acres.

Sonoma County's Point Fire, which has burned more than 1,200 acres, is 50% contained. And firefighters continue to make progress on the Post Fire, which has burned more than 15,000 acres in Los Angeles and Ventura County.

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