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Sunday, July 21, 2024

FBI Announces Reward for Leads on New Mexico Wildfires

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is offering a reward for information regarding two devastating wildfires in southern New Mexico that resulted in two fatalities, forced the evacuation of thousands, and burned more than 24,000 acres. The FBI has announced a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for starting the fires near the village of Ruidoso, NM. The agency has appealed to the public for assistance in identifying the cause of the blazes.

Margot Cravens, a spokesperson for the FBI’s field office in Albuquerque, confirmed on Sunday evening that the agency was assisting with the investigation, although she declined to provide further comments.

The South Fork and Salt fires began on June 17 amid sweltering temperatures and continued to burn on Sunday evening.

The South Fork fire, the larger of the two wildfires, has burned over 17,000 acres and was only 31 percent contained as of Sunday, according to New Mexico Fire Information, a website operated by federal and state agencies. Two fatalities were confirmed by the New Mexico State Police on Tuesday. The other victim was discovered in the driver’s seat of a burned vehicle on a road.

The wildfires have resulted in the destruction of about 1,400 structures and the evacuation of approximately 8,000 people from Ruidoso and the surrounding areas. Ruidoso officials announced that evacuation orders for full-time residents would be lifted, allowing them to return starting at 8 a.m. on Monday. However, some homes may still be without gas, water, and electricity, and air quality may be poor due to smoke and ash, according to a statement on the village’s website.

Despite the lifting of some evacuation orders, certain areas will remain off-limits as they are considered crime scenes and are undergoing recovery efforts, the statement said.

The fires began amidst extreme weather conditions, contributing to their rapid spread and the challenges faced by firefighting efforts. Firefighters are contending with high temperatures, low humidity, and heavy rain, which have all complicated efforts to control and extinguish the blazes. The Mescalero Apache tribal area, U.S. Forest Service land, and areas around Ruidoso are significantly impacted.

The FBI’s involvement underscores the severity of the situation and the importance of determining the cause of the fires. The agency’s request for public assistance highlights the need for collective efforts to address and resolve the crisis. The reward for information aims to incentivize those with knowledge of the fires’ origins to come forward and aid in the investigation.

In the wake of the fires, the village of Ruidoso is grappling with the aftermath and the process of recovery. The destruction of 1,400 structures and the displacement of thousands of residents have left the community reeling. The phased return of residents is a step towards normalcy, but the lingering effects of the fires, such as poor air quality and the lack of essential services, present ongoing challenges.

The local authorities’ emphasis on the need for residents to be self-sufficient upon their return, by bringing a week’s worth of groceries and water, reflects the precarious nature of the current situation. The statement also underscores the ongoing recovery efforts in areas still considered crime scenes, indicating the complexity and seriousness of the recovery process.

As the investigation continues and recovery efforts progress, the community of Ruidoso, along with the broader southern New Mexico region, faces a long road to rebuilding and restoring normalcy. The involvement of federal agencies like the FBI, along with local and state authorities, is crucial in addressing both the immediate aftermath and the longer-term impacts of the wildfires.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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