Escape from killer New Mexico wildfire was ‘absolute sheer terror,’ says woman who fled the flames

June 21, 2024  -Belinda Bukovitz was jolted into action by the sound of police outside her home shouting through a loudspeaker: “Go now, go now, go now!” Realizing this was not like other wildfires that had threatened her mountain village before, she, her husband, son and two cats bundled into three separate cars and fled.

The smoke was at the end of the street when they tore out of the driveway. Panic set in as the usually sleepy two-lane streets of Ruidoso became gridlocked, with cars inching along bumper to bumper, sometimes taking as long as an hour to go a single mile. As they crept forward, smoke from one fire was ahead and smoke from another behind. Bukovitz had no idea where the flames were.

“It was absolute sheer terror, like I thought we were going to die,” she said, voice cracking. “I remember at one point thinking, the river’s over to my right, and I thought my son was about probably five cars behind me. I thought I will get out and go get him, and I will just get in that water. I don’t know if that would help, but that was my plan because I just I didn’t know how fast it was coming.”

The South Fork and Salt fires that raged in south-central New Mexico this week prompted thousands of people like Bukovitz to flee for their lives and destroyed or damaged an estimated 1,400 structures — about half of them homes, according to Ruidoso Mayor Lynn Crawford.

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