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Rain brings new flash flood dangers to active wildfires in New Mexico

Even small rain totals were enough to cause flooding as water ran down hillsides that had been burned back by the fires.
New Mexico Wildfires
Posted at 4:30 PM, Jun 20, 2024

Rain and wind are causing flash flooding around the New Mexico resort town of Ruidoso, complicating firefighting efforts where fast-moving wildfires have killed at least two people and burned some 1,400 structures.

Even small rain totals were enough to cause flooding as water ran down hillsides that had been burned back by the fires. The burned ground does not easily absorb rainfall, and the runoff rendered bridges impassable to many vehicles.

Officials in the town of Ruidoso called the flooding the "worst-case scenario" for the region.

"We got less than two-tenths of an inch of rain yesterday but because of all the burn scar, there’s nothing holding it up," Ruidoso Mayor Lynn Crawford said in a radio interview Thursday. "We had flooding already over the bridges."

Local outlets reported mudslides and debris flows from the rainfall were forcing fire crews to retreat from areas at high risk of flooding.

The runoff forced water rescues and prompted the National Weather Service to warn people to move to higher ground on Wednesday.

Conditions in New Mexico on Thursday were ripe for more rain, continuing the risk of flooding.

Investigators are still looking into the specifics of how the fires first broke out. They say the fires began on the Mescalero Apache reservation and were likely due to human activity.

New Mexico State Police confirmed two fire-related deaths. One was a 60-year-old man who was badly burned in the fire. A second person whose remains were found in a burned vehicle has not yet been identified.

The White House announced Thursday afternoon it has approved New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s request for an expedited Major Disaster Declaration, which will divert federal firefighters, FEMA assistance and other federal resources to help the community.

The fires are still minimally contained as of Thursday afternoon.

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At least 2 dead, 1,400 structures burned as New Mexico wildfires rapidly spread