South Fork Fire claims musician’s life, second known victim still unidentified

Authorities have recovered the remains of two individuals who lost their lives amid the advancing South Fork wildfire near Ruidoso, as confirmed by a spokesperson from the New Mexico State Police on Wednesday.

One of the victims was identified as Patrick Pearson, 60, a musician from Ruidoso. According to his daughter, Hilary Mallak, Pearson tragically died on Monday while attempting to evacuate from the Swiss Chalet Inn, where he had been residing since 2021. The Inn was completely destroyed.

In another incident, State Police officers responded to a burned vehicle on Tuesday morning on Ranier Road south of Alto. The occupant, found in the driver’s seat, remains unidentified due to the skeletal condition of the remains, with no identifiable documents recovered from the vehicle.

Residents of Ruidoso, a community of approximately 8,000 people, were ordered to evacuate on Monday due to the dangerous spread of the South Fork Fire and another nearby blaze known as the Salt Fire.

Pearson, who was awaiting transportation from the inn, found himself stranded as the fire encroached. Mallak expressed the heartbreaking realization that her father, who had recently suffered a leg injury and relied on a walker, likely succumbed to smoke or heat shortly after leaving the hotel.

“He must have realized that no help was coming in time,” Mallak said, recounting the difficult circumstances leading to her father’s tragic end. Pearson’s death was officially communicated to the family by State Police late Tuesday night.

A well-regarded musician, Pearson had a deep connection to Ruidoso, where he regularly performed at venues like Quarters Nightclub and Grill. His sudden passing has left the community mourning, with plans underway by the Office of the Medical Investigator to transport his remains to Albuquerque for further proceedings.

While funeral arrangements are pending, Mallak noted that a GoFundMe page has been established to assist with the costs associated with Pearson’s burial. Reflecting on her father’s life, she shared that Pearson had fallen in love with Ruidoso after performing there years ago, ultimately deciding to make it his home.

“He did a gig there a few years ago and just loved it,” Mallak recalled fondly, emphasizing Pearson’s passion for his music and the local community.

On Wednesday evening, rain fell in the Ruidoso area, causing flood conditions. 200-300 additional firefighters have been deployed to fight the blazes. That brings the total number of personnel fighting both fires in the area to 824.

“On Wednesday, the South Fork and Salt fires received varying amounts of rain.  The highest rainfall recorded was 1.62” along Skyline Ridge near the Monjeau Fire Lookout on the northern side of the South Fork Fire, while rainfall on the Salt Fire measured .05”. Thursday’s incoming weather will produce clouds, cooler temperatures (68-75 degrees) and higher day/night relative humidity. Storms will likely develop over the lower east slopes of the Sacramento Mountains in the afternoon and into the early evening, producing 20-30mph gusts. Heavy rain, flash floods and debris flows are a potential risk from these storms through the week,” writes

“Crews will continue constructing firelines to prevent further fire growth, while continuing to protect homes, properties, and critical infrastructure. Ground and aerial ignitions may be used where needed to strengthen protection of values at risk and burn out fuels between constructed firelines and the main fire,” it added.

The current containment of the 16,335-acre South Fork Fire and the 7,071-acre Salt Fire remains at zero percent.


3 thoughts on “South Fork Fire claims musician’s life, second known victim still unidentified”

  1. Such a tragedy for NM and beautiful Ruidoso. I can’t help but think they have not fully recovered from the fires a couple years back. Ruidoso is a special place for many. God Bless all everybody as you work through this. We must all keep the firefighters, 1st responders and the families affected in our thoughts and prayers.

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