Ruidoso Fires – June, 2024

By Mark H. Finley, U.S. Army Veteran.

Jeff Bleau is a 67-year-old Navy veteran who served as a Machinist Mate Nuclear. So he is used to working where it is “hot”. But he had to contend with a different kind of heat when the Salt Fork and Salt fires broke out near his home in Ruidoso.

Jeff has lived in Ruidoso since 2017, though he has owned the property since 1997. He and his wife Carol built their house there.

When the South Fork fire broke out on Monday morning, June 17th, Jeff’s property was about 4 miles from the fire line. By the evening, ash and hot debris were raining down on his home. By 6:30 they had lost all communications with the outside world: no cell phone, no landline, no tv, no radio.

Being a Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.) member, Jeff knew what to do. He and Carol evacuated five hours ahead of the evacuation order.

They spent the first night in their truck. Then they tried to find a motel room in Roswell, but there were none. Luckily, they found a room in Artesia.

Jeff’s C.E.R.T. team was activated, and he reported to the Fairgrounds. His wife went to Georgia.

You can help by donating to The Greatest Needs Impact Fund,
which is held within the Community Foundation of Southern NM.

At the fairgrounds, they had set up to rescue large animals: horses, goats, dogs, etc. They also had people in campers staying there, some because they would not be separated from their pets.

Jeff said they cared for more than 30 horses, a couple of dozen dogs, some goats and some Shetland ponies.

The Red Cross was set up at the High School, but the Emergency Operations Center was in the fire path and had to move to the County Courthouse. They had to evacuate around 8,000 people from Ruidoso.

Jeff modestly claims he didn’t do much and was never at risk. He said “What was impressive was the way the community pulled together and helped each other.”

Jeff and Carol are back in their home, and more people are slowly being cleared to go back to their homes.

So far, the fires have burned more than more than 25,000 acres. More than 500 houses and 1400 structures have been damaged or destroyed, and two people have died. Both fires are about 70% contained as of this writing.

Fighting the fire has cost $18.7 million in containment efforts. More than 1,000 personnel, 21 crews, 20 rescue dog teams, four helicopters, 42 fire engines, and nine bulldozers, and fire-retardant planes have been involved in the firefighting. The FAA has reminded drone pilots that it is a Federal crime to interfere with firefighting aircraft with up to a year in prison and a $20,000 fine.

The cause of the fire was originally listed as a lightning strike, but has now been changed to “undetermined.” The F.B.I. is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the  person or persons responsible for starting the fires. You can call their tip line at 800-CALL-FBI (800-2225-5324) or submit a tip to the FBI online.

President Biden declared a disaster for victims of the fires, opening up Federal funding. You can apply for assistance by calling 800-621-FEMA (3362) online at 

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has also declared a state-level emergency relating to the fires.

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