HomeTop StoriesFriends of Fort Worth Heartbroken, Homeless Amid Ruidoso Fire

Friends of Fort Worth Heartbroken, Homeless Amid Ruidoso Fire

For nine years, two Fort Worth musicians lived as neighbors and old friends in God’s country, amid a dense pine forest in the mountain resort of Ruidoso, New Mexico.

Then the fires came.

On Monday they lost their home, their belongings and their love for mountain life.

By the end of the week, guitarist Joe Corpening was living in his car outside the only gas station in a nearby town. Fellow bluesman Dave Millsap, once the lead guitarist of Chuck Berry and Delbert McClinton and his wife, Carol Boggs, slept in a 1950s motel eighty miles away.

“Someone at Walmart asked, ‘What do you need?’ and my eyes welled up,” Millsap, 68, said by phone Thursday from his room in Alamogordo.

Flames jump above Joe Corpening's home in Ruidoso, New Mexico during a fire on May 18, 2024. The home was ultimately destroyed.

Flames jump above Joe Corpening’s home in Ruidoso, New Mexico during a fire on May 18, 2024. The home was ultimately destroyed.

‘I realized: I have nothing. I have my wife and my car and my two cats. That’s all. Everything else is just rubble.”

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Corpening lived side by side next to Millsap and Boggs in Alpine Cellars Village, north of Ruidoso, in the path of the deadly South Fork fire.

They were among an estimated 500 residents who lost homes both large and small to fires that surrounded Ruidoso on three sides and burned 24,000 acres.

“It felt like the whole sky was on fire,” Corpening said by phone.

He answered the call in his car at a gas station in Capitan, New Mexico, with “a phone signal, internet, everything you need.”

Corpening, 69, moved from Fort Worth to Ruidoso in 2012, leaving the traffic of South Hulen Street for the mountain life in a town he visited at the height of its 1980s heyday as a horse racing and casino town.

Dave Millsap's truck remains virtually untouched next to his destroyed home after the fires on June 17, 2024 in Ruidoso, NMDave Millsap's truck remains virtually untouched next to his destroyed home after the fires on June 17, 2024 in Ruidoso, NM

Dave Millsap’s truck remains virtually untouched next to his destroyed home after the fires on June 17, 2024 in Ruidoso, NM

Millsap had grown up spending summers camping in Red River in northern New Mexico. When he and Boggs visited Corpening in 2015, she saw that the house next door was for sale.

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There is nothing left but one pickup truck – strangely almost untouched – and a small statue of Saint Francis, the Roman Catholic patron saint of animals.

“I hand-fed my foxes, elk, deer and 10 to 11 turkeys every day,” says Dave Millsap. “I hope he protected my little animals.”

Homes and buildings were destroyed by the South Fork Fire in Ruidoso, New Mexico.  About 1,400 buildings were damaged by the fire, according to New Mexico officials.  This June 19, 2024 photo shows a deer on a site that was destroyed.Homes and buildings were destroyed by the South Fork Fire in Ruidoso, New Mexico.  About 1,400 buildings were damaged by the fire, according to New Mexico officials.  This June 19, 2024 photo shows a deer on a site that was destroyed.

Homes and buildings were destroyed by the South Fork Fire in Ruidoso, New Mexico. About 1,400 buildings were damaged by the fire, according to New Mexico officials. This June 19, 2024 photo shows a deer on a site that was destroyed.

Both described similar experiences on Monday.

First, Millsap heard a fire scanner calling about smoke. From his deck he could see a small will-o’-the-wisp over the ridge.

By noon, Corpening saw the smoke growing clearer. Carol passed by on her way out and shouted, “We gotta get out of here.”

Millsap planned to stay. But Boggs and a firefighter friend begged him to leave.

“When I left I looked up at the sky and it was all fire – I could hear houses exploding – it was terrible,” he said.

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Eventually they found shelter in different towns and moved to avoid the fire.

Corpening said he has insurance and is waiting to get back into the village.

Then he moves to Fort Worth.

“I’m not going to rebuild,” he said.

“The trees are gone. And Ruidoso is all AirBnBs anyway. I’ve just had enough.”

Surviving a wildfire is not the same as surviving a hurricane or tornado, he said.

The fire remains.

‘It’s so mountainous here that it will burn for days. The crews will all leave and months will pass. Then the fire comes again.”

Millsap and Boggs also have insurance. A family member’s GoFundMe.com campaign has raised more than $20,000 for their emergency expenses.

Dave Millsap performs in memory of friend and late guitarist Stephen Bruton at McDavid Studio in Fort Worth in 2009.Dave Millsap performs in memory of friend and late guitarist Stephen Bruton at McDavid Studio in Fort Worth in 2009.

Dave Millsap performs in memory of friend and late guitarist Stephen Bruton at McDavid Studio in Fort Worth in 2009.

Millsap wants to stay in Ruidoso, where he regularly plays clubs and festivals.

But he and Boggs don’t want to live in the woods.

“These incredible fans are so kind to me,” he said. “I just never want to evacuate after a fire again.”

If they build another house, he said, “it will be somewhere far away, in a small house surrounded by gravel.

“No one wants to burn in a fire.”

It was God’s country.

Before it turned into an inferno.

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