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Raging wildfires push New Mexico residents and animals to neighboring shelters

Shelters across the state are taking in animals after dangerous wildfires prompted immediate evacuations.
Dog New Mexico wildfire shelter
Posted at 10:44 AM, Jun 21, 2024

President Joe Biden has issued a disaster declaration for New Mexico, freeing up more resources as crews battle a pair of wildfires that have killed at least two people, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced thousands of people to flee the mountain village of Ruidoso.

The federal aid approved Thursday will help with recovery efforts, including temporary housing and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property.

Firefighters were taking advantage of cooler temperatures, higher humidity levels and rain to keep the fire from growing.

Of the thousands who had to flee the fire at a moment’s notice starting Monday were not just people — but animals too.

Dogs are piled by the dozens in the animal pens at the Eastern New Mexico fairgrounds in Roswell.

Heather Jones, a Ruidoso evacuee, arrived there with her dog.

"I adopted him when he was six months old, he's now 13. He's good old fella now,” she said.

Jones found joy when she moved to Ruidoso. But the fire has turned that to fear.

"That's my retirement that house. I get a little emotional thinking it might burn,” she said.

Jones left with her terrier mix when fires charred the mountainside town.

"I came down here and we didn't know what to expect,” Jones said. “I've done shelter work before, but I've never been in a shelter.”

Some pets are alone, with owners either unaccounted for or in a separate shelter far away.

"Dogs — we are at 28 now, we were at 30, two reclaimed by their owners,” said Ben Silva with Bernalillo County Animal Care.

The fires bore down on Ruidoso's own animal shelter, so it reached out to neighboring counties for a helping hand.

"These animals came in Tuesday night at about 2 a.m.,” Silva said. “We got them settled down, but yeah, it can be a big change."

"Almost every animal here, we've been able to make contact with the owner, wherever they are via phone. I think there's maybe one or two where we didn’t have a phone number, so we're not exactly sure where those ones are,” Silva said.

Other types of animals needed shelter too.

Living through a second wildfire, Blake and Deanna Martin rushed their llamas out of danger again.

"We bugged out even before we were evacuated, because this isn't our first fire, and we could tell this was going to be a big one,” Blake said.

"The smoke was pretty thick, so I expected them to be more disturbed,” said Deanna.

Those in shelters standing on two feet are glad they're able to bring their friends on all fours with them.

Related:
At least 2 dead, 1,400 structures burned as New Mexico wildfires rapidly spread
'GO NOW': Wildfires prompt evacuation of New Mexico resort town