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New Mexico wildfire reportedly kills 2: NPR


A fire burns along a hillside in Ruidoso, NM on Wednesday. Officials say a wildfire burned about 150 structures, including homes, in Ruidoso.

Alexander Meditz/AP


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New Mexico wildfire reportedly kills 2: NPR

A fire burns along a hillside in Ruidoso, NM on Wednesday. Officials say a wildfire burned about 150 structures, including homes, in Ruidoso.

Alexander Meditz/AP

Firefighters spotted the drought-stricken mountainsides around a New Mexico village as they searched for opportunities to slow a wind-driven wildfire that reportedly killed two people and burned at least 150 homes and other structures while displacing thousands of residents.

Homes were among the structures that had burned, but officials on Wednesday did not count the number of people destroyed in the blaze that scorched at least 8.4 square miles (21.8 square kilometers) of forest and grass on the east side of the Ruidoso community, said Lincoln National Forest spokeswoman Laura Rabon.

Rabon announced emergency evacuations from a more densely populated area during a Wednesday afternoon briefing as fire jumped across a road. She told people to get in their cars and drive away.

An elderly couple whose remains were found near their burned home are believed to have died in the blaze, village spokeswoman Kerry Gladden said Thursday.

Police investigators and firefighters found the couple’s remains on Wednesday afternoon after family members informed Ruidoso police that the couple had attempted to evacuate “but family members were not not found,” New Mexico State Police said in a statement late Wednesday.

The remains were found near the house but not inside, and no further information was immediately available, Gladden said. Authorities were working to confirm the identities of the two people, state police said.

New Mexico wildfire reportedly kills 2: NPR

The remains of a house left behind after a wildfire spread through Ruidoso, NM on Wednesday.

Alexander Meditz/AP


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Alexander Meditz/AP

New Mexico wildfire reportedly kills 2: NPR

The remains of a house left behind after a wildfire spread through Ruidoso, NM on Wednesday.

Alexander Meditz/AP

High winds initially forced a suspension of the air attack on the blazes and prevented authorities from getting a better estimate of the extent of the blaze.

But some planes were back in the air Wednesday as winds eased, and seven air tankers and two helicopters have now been assigned to the blaze, Forest Service officials said.

Fire warnings issued for New Mexico, Texas and Colorado

As the cause of the blaze was investigated, fire officials and forecasters warned that persistent dry and windy conditions had triggered red flag warnings for a wide swath that included nearly all of New -Mexico, half of Texas and parts of Colorado and the Midwest.

Five new large fires were reported Tuesday, and nearly 1,600 wildland firefighters and support personnel were assigned to large blazes in the Southwest, South and Rocky Mountain regions, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Warmer and drier weather, coupled with decades of fire suppression, have contributed to an increase in the number of acres burned by wildfires, fire scientists say. And the problem is exacerbated by a 20-plus-year western mega-drought that studies have shown is linked to human-caused climate change. The fire season has become year-round given the changing conditions, including earlier snowmelt and later rains in the fall.

In Ruidoso, authorities declared a state of emergency and said classes were canceled on Wednesday as the village – about 225 kilometers northeast of El Paso, Texas – faced power outages due to power line failures. The students had been evacuated the day before from two schools that had not burned down.

The residences that burned were mostly a mix of trailers and single-family homes, and Gladden said authorities ordered or advised up to 4,500 people to evacuate early Thursday.

Gladden said authorities spent part of Wednesday inspecting as much damage as possible before the winds picked up again. Air tankers managed to drop a few loads of slurry in an attempt to stop the blaze from spreading, and additional air support was expected on Thursday.

“Right now everyone is rallying around those who had to be evacuated,” Gladden said. “We’re just trying to reach out to make sure everyone has accommodation.”

Donations poured in from other communities in southern New Mexico. State officials said emergency grants were approved to provide resources for firefighters and other emergency efforts.

Ruidoso in 2012 was hit by one of the most destructive wildfires in New Mexico history, when a lightning-triggered blaze destroyed more than 240 homes and burned nearly 181 square miles.

Lack of rainfall and low humidity hamper firefighters

Rabon said Wednesday that no precipitation was expected and humidity levels remained in the single digits, which would make it harder to stop the blazes.

“These extremely dry conditions are not in our favor,” she said.

Another wildfire in the Lincoln National Forest northwest of Ruidoso has scorched at least 400 acres (1.6 square kilometers) after being ignited by power lines downed by high winds on Tuesday. Crews confirmed on Wednesday that 10 structures had been lost there.

Elsewhere in New Mexico, wildfires were burning along the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque, in the mountains northwest of the Las Vegas community and in the grasslands along the Pecos River near the town of Roswell.

In Colorado, crews were battling wind-blown grass fires that had destroyed two homes and forced temporary evacuations.


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