Church houses 500 during NM fire

BY LARA BRICKER | RUIDOSO, NM | June 5, 2001



"Thank God we had the support we had."

—Chief Larry Maddox


More than 500 residents were allowed to return to their homes Monday

evening after being evacuated twice in as many days due to the threat from

a 463-acre forest fire -- the latest in a string of intentionally set fires.

The suspicious fire flared up Saturday afternoon at about 2:30 p.m. on the northern edge of

the Mescalero Apache Reservation. As of Tuesday morning, the fire was 60 percent

contained, Ruidoso Police Chief Lanny Maddox said. "They're getting a handle on things,

things are looking up," Maddox said.

Some 700 firefighters and 150 support people battling the stubborn fire have been working

since Saturday to "cut a line" around the perimeter of the fire. Their work was made easier

Monday as the thick smoke and heavy wind dissipated, Chief Maddox said.

The successful containment of the fire, which

occurred without any injuries or damage to

structures, was possible because of the number

of crews at the scene. "Thank God we had the

support we had," Maddox said.

Residents of an elderly housing complex and

several time-share condominiums on Camelot

Mountain -- an area sandwiched between

Ruidoso and the reservation --were evacuated

Saturday to the Ruidoso Church of Christ.

The fire came as close as a half mile of the evacuated area and two miles from the center of

Ruidoso. There is only one road in and out of the Camelot Mountain area. The church was

prepared to accommodate 50 people but soon was filled with 500 people, many of them

vacationers, according to Arthur Hoopes, director of Christian services for Lincoln County,

which includes Ruidoso.

"This was just so overwhelming, it was total chaos," Hoopes said. "We were inundated."

In addition, power to the area went out, leaving the evacuees in the dark. The church is

always quite active during disasters, Hoopes said, but this latest event has taxed its

resources. In the midst of dealing with the evacuees, the church was asked to provide

sandwiches for firefighters. But with no power anywhere in Ruidoso, the church was unable

to call on local sandwich shops for assistance.

The main state highway through town was closed Saturday and residents of the Indian

reservation on the other side of that road were also sent to the church.

Residents and vacationers were evacuated again Sunday to the Ruidoso Convention

Center, where the state undertaker's conference was scheduled to take place, Hoopes said.

The Rio Hondo chapter of the American Red Cross has taken over the organization of the

shelter.

New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson toured the fire area Sunday and declared the area in a state

of emergency, which allows the city to seek state assistance.

Ruidoso is located 185 miles southeast of Albuquerque, NM and 140 miles northeast of El

Paso, TX. Since January, several dozen suspicious fires have been started in the area. Last

Friday, residents were displaced because of an intentionally set fire east of Ruidoso, called

the Homestead fire.

"You cannot imagine the pandemonium," Hoopes said.


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