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Wildfire near Ruidoso hits 50% containment; no cause yet known

UPDATE # 14: The origin of the Three Rivers Fire remains unknown and under investigation but fire crews are at the halfway mark exterminating the fire.

National Forest Service officials said Tuesday that the wildfire is 50 % contained as crews extend fire control lines along the southern part of the blaze in steep terrain near Mescalero Apache Tribal lands.

The blaze began on April 26 and has consumed over 7,000 acres.

UPDATE #13: The Three Rivers Fire burning near Ruidoso reached 40% containment on Saturday, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The blaze remained at 7,033 acres, with officials noting that "the perimeter of the fire has not grown for over a week."

Firefighters said control lines had now been completed along the west side of the fire coming down from the Big Bear area. Isolated smoke could still be seen from smoldering trees, but officials indicated it's not uncommon for smoldering to occur for weeks after a wildfire.

The forest service announced a new closure order for the Three Rivers Campground and trailhead, adding that the White Mountains Wilderness area and all trails within it would also remain closed. Officials said camping, picnicking and hiking should only take place outside of the Bonito Corridor.

UPDATE #12: The Three Rivers Fire burning near Ruidoso was 33% contained on Thursday at 7,033 acres, the U.S. Forest Service said Thursday.

"The perimeter of the fire has not grown for several days," the forest service said in a Thursday statement.

In addition to knocking down hot spots in recent days, officials said "firefighters have been diligently extending control lines south in an area of particularly steep terrain, hooking around the small portion of the fire that had crossed onto Mescalero Apache tribal lands near Indian Creek."

UPDATE #11: Forestry officials said Wednesday that "considerable progress" had been made by crews in strengthening control lines along the perimeter of the Three Rivers Fire that has been burning for over a week near Ruidoso.

Containment was put at 30%, although officials estimated it could be July 4th before the blaze is entirely knocked down. Right now, the only closure orders due to the wildfire is a portion of the White Mountains Wilderness and Three Rivers Campground.

More details are available by watching the video briefing below.

UPDATE #10: Officials on Tuesday reported no growth in the Three Rivers Fire burning near Ruidoso, citing moderate winds and precipitation in helping keep the fire at 7,020 acres and 23% containment.

"Although most of the surface fuels within the fire’s perimeter that would allow the fire to carry and grow are gone, un-burned areas within can continue to smolder for weeks," the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement Tuesday.

With the fire's intensity "drastically decreased," officials said the number of fire crews being utilized would decrease, with some being assigned to other wildfires in the region.

Those firefighters remaining will be focused on continuing to strengthen fire control lines and extinguish hot spots, the forest service said,

UPDATE #9: Despite strong winds over the weekend,  officials said Monday that fire lines were holding and "significant progress" had been made in containing the Three Rivers Fire burning near Ruidoso.

It reached 23% containment and the U.S. Forest Service predicted that Monday's cooler weather and rain potential would allow firefighters to make more inroads in battling the blaze that has now burned for a week.

UPDATE #8: Officials on Sunday said the Three Rivers Fire burning near Ruidoso had reached 19% containment, while now estimating the size of the blaze at 7,119 acres.

Mapping of the fire after an aerial reconnaissance flight showed "multiple lingering fires inside the perimeter continue to burn... (and) there are still areas of combustion and smoke."

Forestry officials warned that a combination of warm temperatures, very low humidity, and strong winds on Sunday afternoon could increase the threat posed by the fire.

In addition, officials said winds gusts from the southwest could lead to an increase in smoke - with people being able to see and smell it especially in the northeast area of Ruidoso.

UPDATE #7: The Three Rivers Fire burning near Ruidoso remained 13% contained on Saturday, the U.S. Forest Service said, with acreage now estimated at 6,951.

"The fire remains within the established fire line perimeter," officials said in a statement on Saturday. "The scattering of the multiple smaller fires inside the perimeter continue to burn."

The forest service said it was expecting warmer and dryer weather across the fire zone after several days of cooler, wet conditions this week that had helped firefighting efforts.

Officials said the warmer temperatures combined with increasing winds from the southwest could make smoke from the fire visible from the west side of the Crest Trail.

UPDATE #6: The Three Rivers Fire burning near Ruidoso was 13% contained on Friday, the U.S. Forest Service said, crediting rain and snow in recent days with helping to slow the fire - which is now down to 5,557 acres, less than half of the 12,000-acre size it was previously estimated at.

However, forestry officials said they were bracing for a possible resurgence of the blaze this weekend.

"Although the precipitation assisted in slowing the fire's growth, warmer temperatures and winds are expected starting Saturday and over the next several days, potentially rekindling interior portions of the fire. Residents should remain vigilant and prepared for evacuations if fire behavior increases," the forest service said in a statement Friday.

Evacuation notices were lifted Tuesday for many areas in the vicinity of the fire and the Village of Ruidoso, a popular tourist spot, was open to visitors as usual on Friday.

The wildfire started Monday near the Three Rivers Campground and its cause remains under investigation.

UPDATE #5: Wet weather conditions on Thursday were yet again giving a boost to crews fighting a 12,000-acre wildfire near Ruidoso, officials said.

"Crews woke up to more snow and rain today," the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement Thursday morning. "There has been no growth on the fire yesterday or today."

Firefighters were spending their time Thursday constructing a line along the southern perimeter of the Three Rivers Fire. Officials said it was part of an effort to protect structures and infrastructure on Ski Apache and Lookout Mountain, as well as homes northeast of the fire perimeter.

Fire crews from all over New Mexico, as well as from the states of Arizona, Wyoming and Montana among others, have been coming in to help tackle the flames.

The Ruidoso Convention Center was also being transformed into the incident command center for fire personnel.

UPDATE #4: The Three Rivers Fire burning near Ruidoso was holding steady at 12,000 acres as of Wednesday night, with containment around 5% of its perimeter.

Officials said rain and snow helped crews working to keep the wildfire, located west of the Ski Apache ski resort in the Sacramento Mountains, from spreading further.

Damp conditions lessened fire activity as the blaze reached the scar from a previous wildfire, meaning there was less live vegetation to burn but more dry debris on the forest flood, officials indicated.

UPDATE #3: The 12,000-acre Three Rivers Fire burning near Ruidoso was receiving more welcome rain and snow, officials said Wednesday morning, but expressed concern "because of the multiple values at risk ahead of the fire, including homes and Ski Apache."

The U.S. Forest Service said the southeastern portion of the blaze, which is the most challenging for firefighters because of very rough terrain, is essential to hold the line on because it could threaten residences and the ski resort if it expands further.

Rain and snow were falling for a second day on a portion of the fire, which the forest service said was slowing the spread of the fire.

However, officials cautioned that erratic winds along the mountain ridges still posed a challenge. Because of those winds, smoke from the fire was expected to be more intense Wednesday afternoon as it blows into the nearby communities of Alto, Capitan, and Ruidoso.

UPDATE #2: The Three Rivers Fire burning near Ruidoso had doubled in size and was up to 12,000 acres as of Tuesday night, forestry officials said, adding that it had crossed onto Mescalero Apache Tribal Land at the northern border.

The fire, which broke out Monday around the Three Rivers Campground and west of the Ski Apache ski resort, was only 5% contained by Tuesday night after charring 18.75 square miles. However, no injuries or damage to buildings was reported.

A top-tier management team was set to take command of fighting the blaze on Wednesday morning and additional air tankers and ground crews were also expected to arrive at some point Wednesday.

Exactly what caused the wildfire remained under investigation, officials said.

UPDATE: Authorities on Tuesday afternoon lifted evacuation orders for some of the areas impacted by the Three Rivers Fire as 150 firefighters worked to try and gain an upper hand on the 6,100 acre blaze burning near Ruidoso.

Evacuation orders were lifted for the following areas:

  • Ski Run Road up to the Eagle Lakes turn
  • Villa Madonna
  • The Bonito corridor below the Bonito Lake dam (Tanbark will remain CLOSED as it is above the dam)
  • Nogal Canyon Road up to the Nogal Peak trailhead
  • AND all inhabited areas west of Highway 37 including:
  • Loma Grande
  • Cora Dutton Road
  • Ranchman’s Camp
  • Magado
  • The Church Mountain area will also be OPEN

Firefighters on Tuesday told ABC-7 that they were grateful for the rain and snow that had fallen, but they warned that the fire is not yet under control.

"You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow or tonight," said Colton Bob, a firefighter with Truman Contracting.

“Honestly, I feel a little anxious," said Issac Lopez, a firefighter for Chihuahua Fire Engines. "Hoping the weather continues to stay around and help us out. 

You can watch the entire Tuesday afternoon fire briefing by the U.S. Forest Service in the video player below.

ORIGINAL REPORT: RUIDOSO, New Mexico — The U.S. Forest Service reported 6,100 acres had been burned as of Tuesday by a wildfire that started close to the Three Rivers Campground in Lincoln County, near Ruidoso, and triggered hundreds of evacuations - but so far no buildings had burned and no injuries were reported.

The Three Rivers Fire grew from 30 to 4,000 acres in a matter of hours on Monday. By Tuesday morning, it had expanded even more and the Forest Service said the blaze remained 0% contained.

Tuesday morning rain and snow, however, was a welcome sight for residents and firefighters impacted by the fast-moving fire.

“Thank you, God,” Lincoln County Sheriff Michael Wood said during a news conference on Tuesday morning, as officials noted that cooler temperatures and precipitation had moved into the area earlier than forecast.

The blaze started Monday about a half-mile north of the popular Three Rivers Campground on the backside of the White Mountains - and by Tuesday morning had spread to the boundary of Ski Apache and into the South Fork Bonito area.

Fire crews were hampered Monday in their efforts to suppress the fire, because aircraft were grounded due to high winds; gusts of up to 60 miles an hour helped fuel the burn.

The wind was expected to pick up again on Tuesday afternoon, which officials feared will cause fire activity to increase once again. "Aircraft including air tankers and helicopters are assigned to the fire and will be utilized where it is safe to do so," the Forest Service said in a Tuesday morning statement.

An evacuation order was issued Monday for numerous areas potentially in the fire's path, including Bonito Canyon, Nogal Canyon and Ski Apache, according to the Forest Service. The American Red Cross told ABC-7 on Tuesday that around 300 people were impacted and would remain evacuated until further notice.

The Lincoln County Sheriff's Office said several evacuation centers were opened up for residents, including the Nazarene Church Camp at 200 Bonito Park Road in Alto, Capitan Senior Center at 412 Tiger Drive in Capitan, and Ruidoso Downs Senior Center at 393 Highway 70 West Road in Ruidoso Downs.

The fire, which has produced a lot of smoke highly visible from U.S. Highway 54, was blowing smoke at times into the nearby communities of Alto and Capitan along with Ruidoso.

The Three Rivers Fire was also burning near the burn scar of the devastating 2012 Little Bear Fire. That blaze consumed nearly 40,000 acres and much of the landscape is still recovering from the damage.

Below you can watch Tuesday morning's news conference in its entirety.

Article Topic Follows: New Mexico

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Jim Parker

Jim Parker is the Director of Digital Content for ABC-7.

Kate Bieri

Kate Bieri is ABC-7’s New Mexico Mobile Newsroom reporter and co-anchors ABC-7’s weekend evening newscasts.

Tom Scott

Tom Scott is ABC-7’s news operations manager for our New Mexico mobile newsroom.


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