Fires Char South-Central New Mexico

Fires Char South-Central New Mexico

Two wildland fires—the South Fork and Salt fires—ignited in south-central New Mexico on June 17, 2024. The destructive blazes burned on Mescalero Tribal and U.S. Forest Service land around Ruidoso, a village sandwiched between the two fires.

The VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the Suomi NPP satellite acquired this image at 3:10 a.m. local time (08:10 Universal Time) on June 18. The fires and their smoke were visible via the instrument’s day-night band, which measures nighttime light emissions and reflections. In this case, some of the smoke plumes reflected light from the Moon.

Around the time of this image, the South Fork fire, north of Ruidoso, had burned nearly 14,000 acres (5,700 hectares). The Salt fire, south of Ruidoso, had burned almost 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares). Both fires were uncontained as firefighters dealt with extreme fire behavior amid windy, dry conditions. Officials ordered mandatory evacuations for the village, the city of Ruidoso Downs, and nearby communities.

Storms on June 19 further challenged the region as heavy rain sent floodwater pouring down mountain slopes. Soils in areas charred by fire can repel water and make flash flooding more likely. More thunderstorms followed, and the additional rain helped slow the spread of fire, according to news reports. Still, as of June 21, the blazes remained uncontained and had charred more than 23,000 acres. The fires have been linked to several deaths and the damage of about 1,400 structures.

Most of the state continued to experience some level of dryness or drought in mid-June, after a month of minor improvements, according to the National Weather Service Albuquerque. New Mexico has had 368 fires so far this year, burning more than 60,000 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Wanmei Liang, using VIIRS day-night band data from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership. Story by Kathryn Hansen.

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