A closer look: New Mexico’s deadliest fire season

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The loss of four responders Saturday is just another example of the devastation of this year’s brutal, historic fire season in New Mexico. 

The four Bernalillo County first responders were helping battle the East Mesa Fire near Las Vegas before their helicopter crashed on its way back to Albuquerque Saturday night.

“It was determined, we determined, that aerial support for water drops would be the least cost and least risky to human life way to address this wildfire because of its remoteness,” said Laura McCarthy, state forester. 

Officials confirmed BCSO Undersheriff Larry Koren, Lt. Fred Beers, Deputy Michael Levison, and Bernalillo County Fire Department Rescue Specialist Matthew King were killed in the crash. 

McCarthy said for this fire, Bernalillo County had the only air support available. It also allowed them to utilize crews for more than just bucket drops.

“We had been having difficulty filling the position of medical support for the East Mesa Fire. At all times, we must have a plan for what we’re going to do if somebody gets hurt. So, by ordering the Bernalillo Countyship we were able to fill both needs, the water drop and medivac capability,” McCarthy said. 

Chopper 4 flew over the fire Monday. At last update, it has burned around 75 acres and is 50% contained. 

Months earlier, the McBride Fire claimed the lives of two people in New Mexico. The bodies of an elderly couple were found on April 13.

Family members told KOB 4 they tried to evacuate but they didn’t make it out.

The McBride Fire destroyed 207 homes and burned more than 6,100 acres before it was contained. 

“So many people lost so much stuff you know and it’s gonna be a long time, a long time for this one to heal.”

New Mexico has also seen two of the largest fires in state history this year.

The Black Fire in the Gila National Forest burned more than 325,000 acres and destroyed five structures. 

But that’s nothing compared to the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire, the state’s largest and most destructive fire ever. It has burned more than 341,000 acres and destroyed more than 900 structures, including hundreds of homes. 

The Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire started as two separate fires before merging together. Both were prescribed burns. As of Monday, the fire is 93% contained. 

A bill for the feds to fully compensate victims for their losses in currently in the U.S. Senate, after passing the House last week.

“As soon as that gets signed by the president, we can expect quick results and quick claims being able to be processed,” said state Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández.