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Forest fires rage in the West, destroying homes and forcing thousands to evacuate

Douglas Sidens’ mother was among those who managed to escape with only her clothes on her back when a deadly, wildfire-torn forest fire tore apart a mountain community in southern New Mexico.

The RV park where she lived was reduced to “metal-framed rails and steel wheels,” said Sidans, who runs the site.

“I had 10 people displaced. “They lost their homes and everything, including my mother,” he said.

The fire destroyed more than 200 homes and killed two people since it erupted on Tuesday near the village of Ruidoso, a holiday destination that attracts thousands of tourists and horse racing fans every summer.

A fire is burning on a hillside in the village of Ruidoso, New Mexico, on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. Authorities say a wildfire has burned about 150 structures, including homes, in the town of Ruidoso, New Mexico. (Alexander Meditz via AP) Alexander Meditz / AP

Hundreds of homes and summer huts are dotted around the surrounding mountain slopes. The RV park run by Sidans is close to where an elderly couple was found dead this week outside their charred residence.

Elsewhere in the United States, crews are battling major wildfires this week in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado, where a new fire forced an evacuation on Friday on the eastern front of the Rocky Mountains near Lyon, about 28 miles north of Boulder.

The fire was burning in the Blue Mountains near the Larimer-Boulder County border, about 20 miles southeast of Estes Park, the eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.

In New Mexico, power was restored to all but a few hundred customers, but evacuation orders for nearly 5,000 people remained in place.

Donations are pouring in from surrounding communities who are all too aware of how devastating forest fires can be.

A decade ago, a fire tore part of the village of Ruidoso, putting the resting place on the map with the most devastating wildfire in New Mexico’s history, burning more than 240 homes and nearly 70 square miles of forest blackened by lightning.

On Friday, Mayor Lynn Crawford reunited the devastated residents as firefighters tried to prevent wind-blown flames from running back into the village. She said the response from their neighbors was incredible.

“So we have a lot of food, we have a lot of clothes, things like that, but we still appreciate and need your prayers and thoughts,” the mayor said during a briefing. “Again, our hearts are with the family of the dead, with those who have lost their homes.

Authorities have not yet released the names of the dead couple. Their bodies were found after worried family members contacted police, saying the couple had planned to evacuate on Tuesday when the blaze broke out, but were unaccounted for later that day.

This photo, provided by the village of Ruidoso, shows an aerial firefighting tanker throwing firefighters through the mountains near the village of Ruidoso, New York, on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. Authorities say a wildfire burned about 150 structures, including homes in the city of Ruidoso in New Mexico. (Kerry Gladen / Village of Ruidoso via AP) Kerry Gladen / AP

While many older residents call Ruidoso home all year round, the population of about 8,000 people increases to about 25,000 during the summer months as Texans and new Mexicans from hotter climates seek relaxation.

Fans also flock to Ruidoso Downs, where one of the richest quarter-horse races in the sport takes place. The racing season was expected to begin on May 27, and the horses that get on there are not in any danger, as firefighters use the facility as a playground.

Part-time residents have turned to social media over the past few days, begging fire officials for updates for certain neighborhoods, hoping their family huts are not among the damaged or destroyed.

The hotlines lit up on Friday afternoon when people in the village called to report more smoke. Firefighter Mike DeFries said it was due to the fact that there were fires inside the fire as the flames found pockets of unburned fuel.

Although the fire did not spread along the lines established by the crews, he said it was still a difficult day for firefighters due to single-digit humidity, higher temperatures and wind.

Authorities reiterated that it was too early to allow people to see the damage. They asked for patience as firefighters extinguished hotspots and tried to build a stronger perimeter around the fire.

“There’s still an active fire zone and it’s not a safe place,” DeFries said. “It will take patience. At the same time, every step we take is designed to put out this fire and bring people home as soon as possible. “

Authorities in New Mexico said they suspected the blaze, which burned more than 9.5 square miles (24 square kilometers) of forest and grass, was caused by a downed power line and the investigation continued on Friday.

Hotter and drier weather, combined with decades of firefighting, has helped increase the number of acres burned by forest fires, firefighters say. The problem is exacerbated by more than 20 years of western mega-drought, which studies have linked to man-made climate change.

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