Shropshire Star

FBI offers reward for information about deadly wildfires

Two fires continue to rage across southern New Mexico.

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A car and land damaged by fire

A reward has been offered for information about those responsible for starting two wildfires in New Mexico which killed two people and destroyed hundreds of homes in the past week.

The FBI has offered up to 10,000 US dollars (£7,900) for information in connection with the South Fork Fire and Salt Fire in the south of the state, which forced thousands to flee.

The agency said it is seeking public assistance in “identifying the cause” of the fires near Ruidoso that were discovered on June 17.

But the notice also pointedly suggests human hands were to blame, saying the reward is for information leading to arrest and conviction of “the person or persons responsible for starting the fires”.

Debris from a house destroyed by a wildfire, with scorched trees nearby
The remains of a house destroyed by the South Fork Fire (Andres Leighton/AP)

The South Fork Fire, which reached 26 square miles, was 26% contained on Saturday, while the Salt Fire, at 12 square miles, was 7% contained as of Saturday morning, according to the National Interagency Fire Centre. Full containment is not expected until July 15.

Recent rain and cooler weather have assisted more than 1,000 firefighters working to contain the fires.

Fire crews have taken advantage of the conditions to use bulldozers to dig protective lines, while hand crews used shovels in more rugged terrain to battle the fires near the mountain village of Ruidoso.

Dozens of scorched trees
Charred trees in the wake of the South Fork Fire in New Mexico (Andres Leighton/AP)

The wildfires have destroyed or damaged an estimated 1,400 structures. Other fallout from the fires, including downed power lines, damaged water, sewer and gas lines, and flooding in burn scars, continue “to pose risks to firefighters and the public”, according to the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

Evacuations in areas near Ruidoso and road closures are still in effect.

In Ruidoso, full-time residents will be allowed to return on Monday, though everyday life will not return to normal.

“You’re going to need to bring a week’s worth of food, you’re going to need to bring drinking water,” Mayor Lynn Crawford said on Facebook.

A view of the front of a vehicle that has been melted by the heat of the fire
The front of a car melted in the intense heat of the South Fork Fire in the mountain village of Ruidoso (Andres Leighton/AP)

President Joe Biden issued a disaster declaration for parts of southern New Mexico on Thursday, freeing up funding and more resources to help with recovery efforts including temporary housing, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property and other emergency work in Lincoln County and on lands belonging to the Mescalero Apache Tribe.

Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, met with governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Ms Crawford and Mescalero Apache President Thora Walsh Padilla on Saturday.

“These communities have our support for as long as it takes to recover,” Ms Criswell posted on the social media platform X.

Much of the Southwest has been exceedingly dry and hot in recent months. Those conditions, along with strong winds, whipped the flames out of control, rapidly advancing the South Fork Fire into Ruidoso in a matter of hours. Evacuations extended to hundreds of homes, businesses, a regional medical centre and the Ruidoso Downs horse track.

Nationwide, wildfires have scorched more than 3,344 square miles so far this year, a figure higher than the 10-year average, according to the National Interagency Fire Centre.

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