In a matter of hours, firefighters battling the deadly McBride Fire in southern New Mexico were able to get the flames 56% contained by Saturday evening, a massive jump from the 0% containment reported earlier in the day, authorities said.
The blaze had grown to more than 6,100 acres, according to an update given earlier Saturday. But following news of the containment, most evacuation orders were lifted, except for the areas of Gavilan Canyon from Warrior Drive south to Highway 70 and Lower Eagle Creek, state police said Saturday evening.
The area where the fire is burning continues to be under a high fire risk through at least Sunday, as dry and breezy conditions are expected to continue unabated, CNN meteorologist Gene Norman said.
Two people were killed in the blaze, state police said in a news release earlier this week.
Firefighters fought flames Tuesday at a home in the village of Ruidoso, roughly an 180-mile drive southeast of Albuquerque, the release said. That evening, local police learned an elderly couple attempted to evacuate the fire was “unaccounted for by family members,” the release said. Authorities located remains of two people at the home the next day, state police said.
Others in the village told CNN affiliate KFOX the flames caught them by surprise. Mary Smith’s 83-year-old husband called her after he woke up to find their neighborhood was being swallowed by the blaze.
“He said, ‘honey everything is burning around us, I’ve got to get out of here,’ ” Mary Smith told the affiliate. She added someone from their church had called her husband and awakened him, saying otherwise, “my husband would’ve still been asleep.”
After residents said they received no prior notification for the flames, the village of Ruidoso wrote on Facebook it was aware of concerns around local sirens not sounding as the fire approached. Officials said in a Facebook comment cell and power service was out due to downed power lines, and though an alert was sent out to residents, “these notifications weren’t delivered to all individuals” because of the outages.
“The sirens were also activated but due to the power failure weren’t functioning properly,” village officials wrote. “This was a fast-moving fire and first responders went door to door, to notify individuals to evacuate immediately.”
“We obviously found some weaknesses,” Ruidoso Mayor Lynn Crawford said during a virtual briefing Saturday evening, adding local officials have been communicating with the governor on the issue and the resources they need.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham visited the village and met with local officials, writing on Twitter Friday, “There’s no doubt that recovery will be a challenging process, but the state will be an active partner with Ruidoso and Lincoln County every step of the way.”
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Several blazes raise concerns
The McBride fire isn’t the only one scorching parts of the state.
The largest of the blazes, the Hermits Peak Fire, had been burning for 10 days on Saturday, and grown to more than 7,300 acres. The fire, burning in parts of San Miguel County, was 46% contained Saturday, with the help of more than 500 personnel battling the flames, authorities said in an update.
Around noon Saturday, local officials said firefighters struggled with suppression efforts in one part of the fire, and said several communities nearby remained under mandatory evacuations while others had been directed to prepare for potential evacuations.
A red flag advisory — indicating increased fire risk — was in place through the night, officials said.
Farther south, the Nogal Canyon Fire also saw a jump in containment Saturday, to 42% contained in the evening, up from 4% containment reported by officials earlier in the day. All evacuation orders were lifted by the evening, officials said during the briefing.
The blazes have created air quality concerns, the state’s top health and environment officials said Friday, urging residents to protect themselves and learn about ways to maintain air quality safety, like by “setting home air conditioning units to ‘recirculate’ during fire events,’” the state’s health and environment departments said in a joint news release.
“Air quality conditions exist that may be harmful to the health of at-risk populations and can create unsafe driving conditions in areas directly impacted by the fires,” David R. Scrase, the acting cabinet secretary for New Mexico’s health department, said in a statement.
“Smoke exposure can aggravate conditions such as asthma, a chronic lung disease, or cardiovascular disease,” Scrase added.
CNN’s Chris Boyette and Paradise Afshar contributed to this report.