CHIMAYÓ — Neighbors described confusion, chaos and then sorrow after a predawn house fire killed two children Saturday in normally quiet Chimayó.
“I saw the commotion; I didn’t know what was going on,” Celine Vigil, who lives across the street and two doors down, said during an interview shortly after noon. “But then I saw the firetrucks, and I did open the door to kind of look at the road.”
Authorities provided little information about the blaze Saturday.
Brian Sayler, a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said two children were taken to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, where they were pronounced dead. Sayler said he believes they were 10 and 12 years old.
The cause of the fire was unknown as of Saturday afternoon, he added.
The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office received a report of a fire at 4:30 a.m., Sayler said. When firefighters arrived, he added, they found two children in the one-story home on Plaza del Cerro, a historic area of the village just off Juan Medina Road near El Santuario de Chimayó, a well-known shrine and pilgrimage site.
Vigil, the neighbor, said she didn’t smell the fire until later. She also said she knows the home’s owner and that his son was living at the residence.
It was unclear if the children also were living at the home.
“I feel so bad for those poor kids,” said Juan Ortiz, Vigil’s brother. “God, that must have been horrible.”
Capt. Jimmy Vigil with the New Mexico State Fire Marshal’s Office was leading the investigation at the site.
The scene outside the house was eerily quiet, except for radio chatter from nearly a dozen responding officials. Police and firefighter vehicles were crammed down the narrow, twisting dirt road behind a single yellow crime scene ribbon, making it impossible to pass.
Above the home, a drone floated, documenting the disaster as part of the law enforcement investigation.
Chimayó straddles northern Santa Fe County and southeastern Rio Arriba County and lies mostly along N.M. 76 east of Española. The home that burned Saturday morning is near the Chimayó Museum and sits a few hundred feet down the road that runs through the center of Plaza del Cerro — formerly known as Plaza de San Buenaventura de Chimayó — a fortified Spanish site more than two centuries old that has undergone some rehabilitation but largely has remained unaltered and is filled with weeds.
The region’s rich history is tracked and protected by the Chimayó Cultural Preservation Association.
The fatal blaze wasn’t the only fire reported in tinder-dry Northern New Mexico on Saturday. The Sandoval County Fire Department responded to a possible bosque fire at the border of Santo Domingo Pueblo and Peña Blanca just after noon.
A preevacuation order — which involves a warning — was issued for eight to 10 homes in the vicinity of N.M. 22, said Sandoval County fire Chief Eric Masterson.
The Cochiti Fire Department, Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office were assisting, Masterson said.
Just before 4:30 p.m., 117 acres had burned and the fire was not contained, he added. The cause of the fire was under investigation.
Weather experts predict a La Niña weather pattern through February — meaning dry conditions are expected to continue with below-normal precipitation for Northern New Mexico.