Reduced to Ashes and Memories

Shelley Sweat, left, with daughters Christian and Bethany. Her husband, Gary, and son, Forrest, are not shown.

The Ada News


As Shelley Sweat was preparing to flee her home in Nogal, N.M., she wondered what she should take with her. Should she take awards and other belongings or focus on essentials, including pictures?

The Ada native and her family evacuated their home on Saturday ahead of the Little Bear fire near Ruidoso, N.M. As they got ready to leave, they packed their pictures, important papers and prescription medications, along with their pets, animal feed and some clothing.

The Sweats were the last ones to leave their subdivision, and their home was destroyed by the fire.

“There’s nothing to go back to,” Sweat said as she started to cry during a phone interview Monday. “Not a wall, nothing. My wedding dress is gone.”

She said the family had enough clothing to last a couple of days — including a dress she had just bought.

More than 300 firefighters are battling the lightning-sparked blaze with the help of three large air tankers, three heavy helicopters and three Blackhawk helicopters, according to the Associated Press. One hundred National Guard troops were deployed to Ruidoso over the weekend, and Gov. Susana Martinez has ordered another 100 troops to the scene.

Strong winds grounded firefighting aircraft on Saturday, but fire managers were hoping to use a break in the weather to fight the 54-square-mile blaze.

Hundreds of people have fled their homes already, and Ruidoso residents were warned Monday to prepare for evacuation if conditions worsen, according to the AP.

The city of Ruidoso’s Web site said preliminary estimates indicated that 35 structures  have been damaged or destroyed, but those figures would likely rise once officials get an accurate look at the damage.

Sweat said her neighbor, Forest Service staffer Wolfgang Born, warned area residents on Friday that they might have to evacuate. Then on Saturday, the Forest Service ordered the Sweats to leave their home.

“We were the last ones to leave the subdivision, and the Forest Service made us leave,” she said. “They came by and said, ‘It’s time.’”

The family evacuated to the village of Capitan, about five miles northeast of the fire, and was staying at the Capitan fairgrounds. Sweat said they are not certain whether they will rebuild their home in Nogal after it is safe to return.

Sweat’s father, Thomas Jackson of Ada, said he hoped the family would move back to Ada, but he thought they would remain in Nogal.

“If I had to guess, they’re probably going to go back to the same area,” he said.

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