(NewsNation) — A wildfire in New Mexico that has burned more than 200 homes and killed two people began after high winds knocked down a power line, authorities said Friday.
Flames continue to burn north and northeast in Ruidoso after the blaze started on Tuesday, according to local NewsNation affiliate KQRE.
The remains of the deceased elderly couple were found Wednesday afternoon near their home. Family members told Ruidoso police that the two men had tried to evacuate, but were missing. New Mexico State Police are trying to identify the couple.
About 5,000 people have been evacuated so far, authorities said on Friday.
About 9 square miles of forest and grass were burned.
Community members stepped up to help people in any way they could, KQRE reported. A real estate agent who spoke to the station said he was collecting and distributing items to people affected by the fire.
Gavin Bigger told the station he started small, with donations from people he knew, but as the fire grew so did the people who wanted to help.
“It’s very tragic – you see the pictures and hear of people losing their homes, there’s no word for it,” he said.
Among the many items he has collected are clothes, toiletries, hairbrushes, towels and bedding.
Ruidoso Mayor Lynn Crawford said the village was overflowing with donations from surrounding communities.
“So we have a lot of food, we have a lot of clothes, that kind of stuff, but we still appreciate and need your prayers and your thoughts,” the mayor said during a briefing. “Once again, our hearts go out to the family of the deceased, to those who lost their homes.”
Wildfires have also affected areas outside of Ruidoso, including along the Rio Grande south of Albuquerque, in the mountains northwest of the Las Vegas community, and in the grasslands along the river. Pecos near the town of Roswell.
Since the start of 2022, 18,550 wildfires have burned about 1,250 square miles, which is well above the 10-year average of 12,290 wildfires and 835 square miles.
With winds expected to pick up on Friday, Operations Commander Dave Bales said the strategy was to “attack while we can”. Persistent dry and windy conditions triggered another day of red flag warnings, meaning high fire risk, for the eastern third of New Mexico and other parts of the Midwest.
“We’re trying to keep this fire as small as possible, especially because it’s right in the community,” Bales said. “We have lost a lot of structures, so our teams are there on the fire front, as directly as possible.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.