After wildfires ravage Ruidoso, New Mexico, leaving 2 dead, floods swamp area

Two wildfires tearing through southern New Mexico have killed at least two people and destroyed about 1,400 buildings, and parts of the area were threatened with heavy rains and flash flooding that led to water rescues.

The two fires, the South Fork Fire and the Salt Fire, had together burned over 23,000 acres and had not been contained at all since springing up Monday on the Mescalero Apache Reservation, officials said in a Wednesday update. The blazes prompted mandatory evacuations for the roughly 8,000 residents of Village of Ruidoso and Ruidoso Downs, about two hours outside of Albuquerque.

The burned structures include about 500 homes, according to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, making it one of the most destructive wildfires in the state's history. Grisham declared a state of emergency in Lincoln County and the Mescalero Apache Reservation. The cause of the fires was still under investigation.

"There’s total areas of the community that the homes are gone," Village of Ruidoso Mayor Lynn Crawford told local station W105 on Thursday morning. "It’s devastating."

At least 2 killed in wildfires; residents unaccounted for

Officials in New Mexico said at least two people have been killed in the wildfires.

The first confirmed fatality was identified as 60-year-old Patrick Pearson, who was found on the side of the road near the Swiss Chalet Motel in Ruidoso on Tuesday, New Mexico State Police said. He was remembered by loved ones as a talented country musician and devoted father.

The remains of another unidentified person were found the same day in a burned vehicle on Ranier Road nearby, officials said.

Meanwhile, there were residents of Ruidoso who were unaccounted for after some chose to remain behind instead of evacuating, Grisham said at a news conference. She said search teams were scheduled to look for any remaining residents starting Thursday. It was unclear how many residents chose to stay in their homes.

"We are very concerned about the potential loss of life," Grisham said. "We know there are several people still unaccounted for."

Flash flooding inundates area already hit hard by fires

Flash flood warnings were in effect in parts of New Mexico through late Thursday morning, and forecasters warned of flooded roads after thunderstorms. A powerful storm brought flash flooding to parts of New Mexico on Wednesday, including areas already dealing with wildfires. About 1 to 3 inches of rain fell on the Ruidoso area Wednesday, forecasters said.

Thunderstorms in the south central mountains are expected again Thursday afternoon and evening that could quickly produce a quarter-inch of rain, "enough to produce flash flooding on new burn scars," the National Weather Service in Albuquerque said.

The weather service said swift-water rescues were made at an RV park between Ruidoso Downs and Glencoe on Wednesday.

"Do not try and cross through any flooding anywhere," Grisham said. "Do not try and cross any flooded areas on foot or otherwise. It's incredibly dangerous."

See a map of New Mexico wildfires

Contributing: Julia Gomez, USA TODAY; Aaron A. Bedoya and Natassia Paloma, El Paso Times; Reuters

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New Mexico Ruidoso residents face South Fork and Salt fires: 2 dead