RUIDOSO, N.M. — Ron “Chip” Ravenscroft walked his border collies outside of the Lincoln County Medical Center Wednesday as a column of smoke gathered near him, caused by bursts of orange from a flame where another ponderosa pine ignited.
Behind him, his refuge — the hospital where he and his wife fled to in order to escape a massive, fast-moving wildfire that has Ruidoso in shock and survival mode. The fire started Tuesday. As of Thursday morning it was still burning, and was 0% contained.
“The winds changed a little bit, and blew up towards our house, so I packed up my wife, our dogs and our cat,” Ravenscroft said. “The dogs spent the night in the van, with the cat.”
He and wife spent the night inside the medical center because power outages at the Red Cross stand-up shelter at the Ruidoso Convention Center made staying there impossible, Ravenscroft said. His wife needs both oxygen and a feeding tube.
They are among the estimated 4,500 residents who evacuated from homes in Ruidoso as ferocious winds coupled with dry weather fueled the McBride Fire, which spread close to the middle of town in the Gavilan Canyon area.
Village officials said Thursday the fire is now moving northeast away from the main part of town and is headed toward the Sierra Blanca Regional Airport.
It’s unclear what started the wildfire. Its cause remains under investigation.
The McBride Fire, named for the road where it started, sparked up Tuesday afternoon, tearing through more than 5,000 acres, damaging or destroying more than 200 structures, including homes. Schools in the area remain closed Thursday.
New Mexico State Police said at least two people are dead. In a news release, they said that a family lost contact with an elderly couple in the initial evacuation on Tuesday. On Wednesday, two bodies were discovered on Gavilan Road, a residential area in Ruidoso. NMSP is waiting to confirm the identity of the couple until a cause of death can be determined and the family can be notified, the news release said.
Along with the McBride Fire, a second fire is burning in the Sacramento Mountains. The Nogal Fire, burning about 15 miles north of Ruidoso, has also destroyed at least 10 structures and burned 400 acres.
The Nogal Fire is also 0% contained, officials said. The stated cause of that fire is a downed power line from the high winds Tuesday.
The strong winds blasted through the mountains all day Tuesday — sustained at 60 mph — with a peak gust at 80 mph as recorded by the El Paso National Weather Service. In addition to fueling the fires, the winds damaged structures all over Ruidoso.
By Wednesday, the howl of chainsaws stuttered around town, as the village worked to cut fallen ponderosas, which crashed through power lines, roofs and fences indiscriminately. Power remained out across much of the village as residents began to clean up.
Liam Vaughn, 10, was among those helping to clean up. He dragged branches across the parking lot of his family’s storefront. His father, Eric Vaughn, stood on what was left of the roof of the Unique Boutique. The rest of the roof had caved inside.
Liam was inside the building with his mom and little sister when two trees crashed through the roof Tuesday, neighbors said.
“I heard a big crash, and thought my mom dropped something, so I was going to go help her, and then I just saw a big hole in the roof,” Liam recounted.
By Wednesday afternoon, the fire fight was limited to the ground as winds were too strong for planes. But a key slurry drop prevented flames from consuming houses on Meander Drive.
A regional team called Southwest #2 took control of the McBride Fire early Thursday morning, bringing in almost 1,000 personnel from around New Mexico and neighboring states to supplement the 250 mostly local firefighters.
Thursday’s weather will remain dry, with the winds expected to die down.