ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An investigation has determined that a tree falling in power lines started a fatal fire that also destroyed more than 200 homes in the Ruidoso area four months ago, according to a newspaper.
The Albuquerque Journal said a report issued by the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department states that wind gusts of up to 80 mph toppled a 49-foot-tall drought-stressed tree on April 12, causing electrical lines to arc and ignite the fire.
The following day, authorities reported finding the remains of an elderly couple who died while trying to evacuate their burning home.
The fire has spawned two lawsuits filed on behalf of dozens of Ruidoso property owners.
The suit alleges that Public Service Company of New Mexico and a contractor caused the fire by failing to properly maintain trees and vegetation near its power lines.
PNM has denied any fault or wrongdoing, saying the tree that struck the electrical lines was located outside of the company’s right-of-way.