Two dead after flash flood in New Mexico wildfire area

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By Andrew Hay

TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) -Two women died and a man was missing near Las Vegas, New Mexico, after a flash flood swept through a burn area left by the state's largest recorded wildfire, officials said on Friday.

The three people were connected to Camp Blue Haven, a Christian outdoor activity center for children around 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Las Vegas, Cabo Lucero Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tim Nix said.

The fatalities were the first related to the Hermit's Peak Calf Canyon fire. Forest floors baked by the intense fire no longer absorb water and mountainsides have turned into ash and debris flows during recent thunderstorms.

The women's bodies were found on Thursday along the banks of the Tecolote Creek, which runs through Camp Blue Haven, San Miguel County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

Police located a capsized vehicle in the creek with no one inside, the statement said.

"We're searching for a third person," said Nix. "They're all related to the camp."

News channel KOB4 showed video of a torrent of black, ash-choked water pouring through the center of Camp Blue Haven on Thursday. The camp did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The wildfire and subsequent flooding has left devastation up a 45-mile swathe of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains northeast of Santa Fe where an area the size of Los Angeles has burned.

Over 430 homes have been destroyed, roads washed away and farmland covered with debris flows since the blaze started in April when two federal prescribed fires went out of control.

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham on Friday asked President Joe Biden to extend 100% federal cost coverage for protective work and debris removal to cover flooding.

"The ongoing damage is the result of U.S. Forest Service prescribed burns," Lujan Grisham said in a statement.

(Reporting By Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Alistair Bell and Sam Holmes)