60-year-old among 2 confirmed dead in New Mexico wildfires: 'He made friends everywhere'

The South Fork Fire and Salt Fire have spread with 0% containment.

June 19, 2024, 7:28 PM

Dual wildfires in New Mexico turned deadly, as state police announced Wednesday that two people were discovered deceased in the fires that remain uncontained.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a state of emergency earlier this week as the South Fork Fire and Salt Fire spread with 0% containment as of Wednesday afternoon.

New Mexico State Police reported Patrick Pearson, 60, died after sustaining numerous burns from the South Fork Fire, where he succumbed to his injuries.

Patrick Pearson is shown in this undated photo.
Hilary Mallak

Pearson was discovered on the side of the road near the Swiss Chalet Motel in Ruidoso, Lincoln County, officials said.

Pearson's daughter, Hilary Mallak, told ABC News that he was a musician in Albuquerque for most of his life until he moved to Ruidoso.

Mallak reflected on her father's life, saying, "he made friends everywhere" and would "help people when he could."

Police said the second individual was found dead in a vehicle incinerated in the South Fork Fire in Ruidoso.

Smoke from the South Fork Fire covers the sun, casting an orange light across the Lincoln National Forest at Cedar Creek, in Ruidoso, N. M., June 17, 2024.
Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Reuters

Officials said they were unable to immediately identify the person due to their condition being skeletal remains.

"No legible identification documents were located in the burned vehicle," according to police.

Fire officials reported the blazes spread to more than 23,400 acres by Wednesday morning, destroying more than 1,400 homes and other structures and causing more than 8,000 people to evacuate.

Evacuation orders are in effect for three counties in the state: Mescalero, Otero and Lincoln, Grisham said during a Tuesday press conference.

Smoke rises as the South Fork Fire left behind extensive property and forest damage in northern Ruidoso, N. M., June 18, 2024.
Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Reuters

There are 17 federal and state agencies and 800 personnel on the ground working to help people amid evacuations, according to Grisham.

The governor said there are 13 wildfire hotshot crews battling the fires in addition to other fire teams.

A burned car stands in front of a ruined building as the South Fork Fire burned most of the structures in Cedar Creek after mass evacuations of the village of Ruidoso, N.M., June 18, 2024.
Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Reuters

The South Fork Fire was discovered at around 9 a.m. Monday morning on the Mescalero Reservation, west of the Village of Ruidoso, the New Mexico Forestry Division said, noting the cause of the fire remains unknown.

"Fire growth has been rapid with extreme fire behavior," the division said.

Smoke plumes from the South Fork Fire rise above the tree line as the fire progresses from the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation to the Lincoln National Forest causing mandatory evacuations in Ruidoso, N. M., June 17, 2024.
Kaylee Greenlee Beal/Reuters

Nearby, the Salt Fire, also in the Mescalero Reservation, is slower moving but "creeping through difficult, mountainous terrain south of Ruidoso," fire officials said.

The Mescalero Reservation is approximately 130 miles southeast of Albuquerque

New Mexico has submitted a federal emergency disaster request, which Grisham noted should be approved within the next 24 hours.

Related Topics