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Rain, Snow Help Efforts to Fight New Mexico Wildfire

The Weather Channel logoThe Weather Channel 4/28/2021 Ron Brackett and Jan Wesner Childs

Crews battling a wildfire burning in southern New Mexico got an assist from a second day of wetter weather on Wednesday.

"Rain and snow are falling again today, which is lessening fire activity," according to an update posted at 11 a.m. MDT. "Up to a half inch of rain is expected on portion of the fire. Precipitation and higher humidity levels around 30% will slow the fire."

But officials warned that erratic winds along mountain ridges in the area of the fire were expected to continue.

The update also clarified the size of the blaze, named the Three Rivers Fire. Overnight, the estimated size of the fire grew from about 9 square miles to 19 square miles. But that number was based on the perimeter of the fire and included some areas that weren't burned. A downgraded size estimate was expected with the next update.

The fire was 5% contained, with no reports of structures burned or injuries.

(MORE: Drought, High Temps Damaging New Mexico's Forests; Raising Wildfire Risk)

The fire broke out Monday in a part of the Lincoln National Forest about 180 miles south of Albuquerque.

Meanwhile, evacuation orders were lifted for several communities but fire officials advised residents to remain vigilant and prepared to leave if necessary.f

The blaze started about a half-mile above the Three Rivers Campground and was being driven by steep terrain and extreme fire weather conditions, including gusty winds and low humidity levels, according to Laura Rabon, a public affairs officer with the Lincoln National Forest.

More than 200 personnel were fighting the fire from land and air.

The original evacuation orders affected about 250 people in the Nogal Canyon area, the Bonito Canyon area, Tanbark, Church, Ranchman’s Camp, Loma Grande, Cora Dutton, Magado and Ski Apache. Those affected about 250 people, according to KRQE. Three evacuation centers were opened in Alto, Capitan and Ruidoso Downs.

Residents in several of those neighborhoods were allowed to return home Tuesday afternoon, according to the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office.

Several roads were also closed.

Smoke from the fire was visible on U.S. Highway 54, and it was moving to the northeast into the communities of Alto, Capitan, and Ruidoso, Rabon said.

The National Weather Service office in Albuquerque said wind gusts of 50 to 60 mph were possible into Tuesday morning.

"A break in critical fire weather arrives late Tuesday through Wednesday with the passage of a Pacific storm system," the office tweeted. "Cooler temperatures and an incredibly welcomed increase in precipitation chances accompany this storm system."

New Mexico is in the grips of a lingering drought. More than 80% of the state, including Lincoln County, is under extreme or exceptional drought conditions, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System.

Above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation is expected at least through June.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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