New Mexico Fire Claims 224 Homes, Count Could Rise
By Elaine Baumgartel
June 13, 2012

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rap
A photo from space shows the location of The Little Bear fire in southeastern New Mexico, and the smoke drift into West Texas.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Nearly 1,200 firefighters are working to keep a wildfire from destroying more homes in the mountains of southeastern New Mexico. The Little Bear fire has destroyed 224 homes, 10 buildings and is 35 percent contained, but damage reports are still coming in.

Assessment teams have had a hard time getting into neighborhoods in the burn area to find out how many structures have been destroyed, and officials say the numbers are expected to increase. 

Meanwhile, fire crews continue to focus their efforts on building fire lines to protect small communities that lie on nearly all sides of the blaze: Capitan to the northeast, Nogal in the northwest and Ruidoso to the south. 

Rugged terrain is complicating firefighting operations, but fire information officer Karen Takai says low humidity and erratic winds haven't helped.

"Just the temperatures in itself with the firefighters is difficult, we have some dehydration going on, a few twisted ankles. This is a challenging mountain," Takai said.

The wildfire is burning actively into Ponderosa pine and conifer forests and wilderness on the western perimeter. Takai says that's where the fire is most active. 

But more dry, windy conditions are in the forecast, Takai warns, "which is a watch-out situation for the possibility for higher higher activity."

The blaze has consumed nearly 60 square miles so far.