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A woman who escaped the raging New Mexico wildfire describes it as “utter sheer terror.”

Smoke from the fire (Via Pam Bonner/Getty Images)

Belinda Bukovitz sprang into action when she heard police outside her house urgently shouting through a loudspeaker: “Go now, go now, go now!” Knowing this wildfire was different from past threats, she, her husband, son, and two cats quickly got into three separate cars and fled.

They encountered chaos as they left. Normally quiet streets in Ruidoso were jammed with bumper-to-bumper traffic, sometimes taking an hour to move just one mile. Smoke filled the air ahead and behind them, and Bukovitz had no idea where the fire was spreading.

“It was absolute sheer terror, like I thought we were going to die,” she said, her voice breaking. “I remember thinking, the river’s to my right, and I thought my son was probably five cars behind me. I planned to get out and find him, and maybe get in the water. I didn’t know if that would help, but I just didn’t know how fast it was moving.”

Smoke from the fire (Via Pam Bonner/Getty Images)

This week, the South Fork and Salt fires in south-central New Mexico forced thousands of people like Bukovitz to evacuate, and destroyed or damaged around 1,400 buildings, including about half of them homes, according to Ruidoso Mayor Lynn Crawford.

Firefighters made progress as rain and cooler weather helped contain the blazes, but many neighborhoods suffered extensive damage. Tragically, at least two people lost their lives.

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham planned to visit the affected area on Saturday. A federal disaster declaration has been issued to provide additional resources for recovery efforts while firefighters continue to battle the flames.

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