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Updated: Tuesday, 12 Jun 2012, 11:50 PM MDT
Published : Tuesday, 12 Jun 2012, 6:11 PM MDT
RUIDOSO, N.M. (KRQE) - While the threat for new fire damage is dwindling, hundreds of Lincoln County residents are now without a home as hundreds more wonder when they can go back home.
For days news coverage from the air has shown the destruction caused by the Little Bear Fire.
But on Tuesday the situation on the ground became a lot clearer.
The Lincoln County Sheriff's Office told KRQE News 13 damage-assessment teams are nearly done with their work determining how many homes burned and who they belonged to.
It was a job that was expected to take up to five days, but progress there has exceeded expectations.
The truly hard part will start Wednesday when the sheriff's department begins officially notifying families whose homes have burned.
"It's almost like telling next of kin that a loved one has passed away," Lincoln County Undersheriff Robert Shepperd said. "Very emotional, extremely hard, and it's going to be a tough assignment."
One family already knows their home escaped the flames after they saw aerial video Monday from KRQE News 13's Skyranger.
They're in a neighborhood in the middle of the fire zone, and in a bittersweet feeling theirs is one of the few homes left standing.
"It was a place that we came as a family and to be together," Janette Johnson said. "The rest of the neighborhood is gone except for two other houses.
"It's life-altering. Things will never be the same again."
Many evacuees are wondering when they can go home. For people who live inside the fire line, it could be days.
For others who live on the outskirts of the fire, evacuations could be lifted as early as Wednesday.
Even if they're not, the sheriff is trying to arrange escorts to allow some of them to return even if only for a short time.
This firefight is putting a strain on the water supply in the Ruidoso area, an area that's been exceptionally dry in recent years.
Officials are asking everyone to conserve to avoid any outages, which would obviously be the last thing fire crews need right now.
While fire crews are battling to save the buildings still standing, people who have lost their homes are starting to come to grips with the painful reality.
North of Ruidoso, small brush fires and hot spots are still burning on the hillsides, far smaller now than the wildfire that destroyed a home off of the highway 37, leaving only the chimney standing.
The hillsides in many areas, charred to a crisp but not every home here has burned.
The Jameson family has two homes in this area. The daughter Teresa’s is smoky but standing.
But her parents' decades-old two story home is not, shocking news for the family.
“It was hard to believe it was standing three hours before and then it was gone,” Teresa Jameson said.
Her mother doesn’t know where they will go from here.
“Just total devastation. A lifetime of work and at our age it's going to be hard to physically redo it,” Linda Jameson said.
L.J. Jameson is lost for words.
”that thought is not speakable, you just, you just cry,” L.J. Jameson said.
Many families still don't know if their home made it through the fire.
Damage assessment crews are only about halfway through with their work.
Another area that lost a lot of structures is Bonita Park a Christian campground near Capitan.
It's not just cabins that are gone, several cars were charred.
The campground is closed until July 1st.