• Fri. Dec 9th, 2022

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2 dead in New Mexico wildfire that forced evacuations and damaged homes – CNN

CNN  — 

Two people have died in the McBride Fire raging in southern New Mexico that has scorched more than 5,000 acres and forced evacuations in the Sierra Blanco mountain range, police said.

Police found their remains Wednesday in a home that burned a day earlier in Ruidoso, a village of more than 7,000 people roughly a 180-mile drive southeast of Albuquerque, state police said.

Firefighters had fought the flames at the home Tuesday afternoon, and that evening village police “received information about an elderly couple who attempted to evacuate the McBride Fire but were unaccounted for by family members,” state police said.

Police did not say whether the two people who died were the couple reported missing. The deaths are under investigation, and the state medical investigator’s office was working to identify the victims, state police said Wednesday.

The McBride Fire, which started Tuesday afternoon in Ruidoso, has burned 5,381 acres, had no containment and was spreading northeast as of Wednesday evening, according to the New Mexico Fire Information website, an interagency resource with information from federal and state agencies.

The flames have destroyed or damaged more than 200 structures, local officials said, and many Ruidoso-area residents have been told to evacuate.

One of those residents, Chris Barela, left with his wife Tuesday to stay with relatives in Las Cruces after the fire came within about 2 miles of their home, he told CNN affiliate KFOX.

“We got our go-bags and important papers, things like that, had them ready,” Barela said.

The McBride Fire is one of several wildfires that have raged in the state in recent days, fueled in part by strong winds and low humidity.

Five fires – the Hermit’s Peak, McBride, Overflow, Big Hole and Nogal Canyon fires – have recently scorched more than 15,000 acres of land in New Mexico, according to InciWeb, a US clearinghouse for wildfire information.

Much of New Mexico’s eastern half Thursday was under red flag warnings, which the National Weather Service issues to indicate strong winds and other conditions will combine to create high risks of fire danger.

Ruidoso – with winds forecast to get up to 20 mph – was not in the warning area Thursday. Winds have calmed there since gusts over 60 mph hit on Tuesday, officials said.

The state has received federal fire management assistance grants that will provide resources for crews battling wildfires, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said Wednesday.

“I want to assure the people of New Mexico that our local, state, federal and tribal agencies are working around the clock to make sure evacuees have the support they need as these unprecedented spring wildfires tear through our communities,” the governor said.

Evacuations are underway

The largest blaze, Hermit’s Peak – in rugged terrain some 30 miles east of Santa Fe – has scorched more than 7,000 acres and is 10% contained as of Thursday, officials said.

The fire grew aggressively on Tuesday, pushed by wind gusts of up to 70 mph, the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office said. Thursday afternoon may be breezy, but the storm system that brought the stronger winds has passed, according to the New Mexico Fire Information site.

The sheriff’s office said it issued evacuation orders Tuesday and put several areas on standby.

Meanwhile, the Overflow Fire was 100% contained as of Wednesday after charring 1,900 acres over the past week.

The Nogal Canyon Fire, west of Capitan, had burned about 350 acres after sparking Wednesday, and it was 4% contained, according to InciWeb. Residents in the area were placed under mandatory evacuations.

A drop in wind speed helped firefighters working to control the flames, officials said. “Crews are working in steep, rugged terrain, which fire is able to run through the extremely dry vegetation,” an update on InciWeb said.

As for the Big Hole Fire, which scorched more than 900 acres as of Wednesday, containment has reached 40%, according to the New Mexico Fire Information website.

“Extremely dry weather and strong winds kept firefighting aircraft grounded today preventing water drops over the fire area,” officials said about that fire Wednesday.

CNN’s Jason Hanna, Steve Almasy and Paradise Afshar contributed to this report.