Two people have died in a large New Mexico springtime wildfire that has burned more than 5,000 acres in the Sierra Blanca mountain range, authorities said Wednesday.
The victims, an elderly couple, were found Wednesday in a burned-out home in Ruidoso, southern New Mexico, according to the New Mexico Department of Public Safety. They were recorded as the first fatalities from the fire, known as the McBride fire as it burned on a third day.
Ruidoso police found the victims after receiving “information about an elderly couple who attempted to evacuate the McBride fire, but were not found by family members,” the safety department said in a statement Wednesday.
The New Mexico State Police is working with the Office of the Medical Investigator to identify the victims and determine the cause and manner of death. Authorities said they would release the names of the victims once the medical examiner had identified them and notified their families.
The McBride Fire started Tuesday afternoon in Ruidoso, a town in the Sierra Blanca mountain range, according to New Mexico Fire Information, a state website.
As of Thursday morning, the fire had burned more than 5,700 acres of grass, brush and wood and was 0 percent contained. It was not clear what caused the fire.
The fire destroyed or damaged at least 200 structures and homes and caused power and gas outages, officials said.
As the fire spread, evacuations were ordered in the town.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico called deaths in Ruidoso “absolutely heartbreaking” on Twitter.
The fire is one of at least five burning in New Mexico. The fires, known as Hermits Peak, Overflow, Big Hole and Nogal Canyon, have burned more than 13,000 acres of land in the state, according to InciWeb, a site that tracks fires across the country.
The largest fire, Hermits Peak, is in the Santa Fe National Forest in northern New Mexico, and had burned more than 6,200 acres and was 10 percent contained as of Wednesday, according to New Mexico fire officials.
Strong winds were fueling the fire, according to the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office, which estimated sustained winds of 50 to 60 miles per hour with gusts up to 70 mph. The office said it had issued several evacuation orders.
The National Weather Service in Albuquerque said wind speeds would continue to decrease Thursday, but “gusty conditions remain likely in” eastern New Mexico and “exceptionally dry conditions continue.”
Wildfires are increasing in size and intensity in the western United States, and wildfire seasons are getting longer. Recent research has suggested that the heat and dryness associated with global warming are the main reasons for the increase in larger and stronger fires.
Abnormally high temperature days have contributed to fire intensity by making vegetation dry and more likely to catch fire. Analyzes have shown that climate change has increased the likelihood of such extreme heat waves.