After The Fires Come The Floods

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Jemez > Some residents are virtually cut off from the outside world

By Tris DeRoma

These days, resident Morris Crane is very glad he owns a pickup truck. Without it, the nosebleed he suffered recently could have become a major problem. Crane, along with 13 other families, lives on the other side of a washed out Elk Trail in La Cueva in the Jemez Mountains, a dirt road that was cut in two by a flash flood two weeks ago.


The night of his nosebleed, his wife had to drive him to the hospital in Rio Rancho. Without his truck, he said there was no way she could have navigated the gap that separated them from the outside world and the medical help he needed.

Though he credits Sandoval County’s Public Works with doing the best they could in patching up the gap the flood created, he claims ambulances, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles cannot make the gap, which has 45 degree edges on either side of a gap filled with rocks.

To demonstrate his concerns, Crane drove his truck across it, with the front pointing almost directly down into the rocks and then almost straight up on the other side. In between, you can hear the stones grinding together under the tires as the truck jostles to the other side.

“There’s no way your car, an ambulance or a fire truck can get across,” he said, adding it’s only a matter of time before a family is going to need more than a pickup truck to get to the help they need. “If you go across, you either have to have all-wheel drive or four wheel drive,” he said. “Those rocks on the bottom roll under your tires.”

Crane attributes the flood damage to the aftereffects of the Thompson Ridge wildfire, which started not far from where the gap in the road was created.

“What happens is in a fire, I don’t know if you’re familiar with them... burns off everything and so there’s nothing to hold anything down. So a rain comes, and washes everything down,” he said, pointing to the debris left behind by the flood. Also in view were pieces of a cement culvert the county installed in the gap 20 years ago, as well as pieces of the county’s most recent efforts, a rusted out metal one that did the job in bridging the gap until the Thompson Ridge flash flood came.

“What happened was, as it got clogged up with wood and debris, the water went over the road and washed everything out,” he said.

That’s not the only problem the flooding from the Thompson Ridge Fire has caused, he said they were without phone and Internet for a while. He pointed to the lengths of black cable strung across either side of the gap, haphazardly supported by five foot long metal posts. It is, he said, their phone and Internet connection to the outside world.

With the lack of emergency vehicle access and iffy phone connections being a constant threat to their safety, he and other residents have been requesting Sandoval County officials come in and do a better job in fixing the gap.

“The phone company can’t do their job until the county does their job,” he said.

With school starting, he said residents also discovered that they have to drive their kids across the gap in order to reach the school bus adding further inconvenience to their lives.

“Can you imagine a school bus trying to get across that?” he said.

Sandoval County Assistant Fire Chief and County Emergency Manager David Bervin understands residents’ concerns, but also gave his assurances that if they have too, they can deploy vehicles and equipment designed to get them across the washout.

“We would find a way. That is our job,” said Bervin. “The chief up there is very good, knows the area very well and probably knows every single person in that entire community, as well as their issues.”

He added that Public Works purposely created a low-level river crossing with cobble stones so it would stay in place until they were able to do more after the monsoon season.

“We are going to repair that road, back to original, probably, but that won’t be until we get through the monsoon season,” he said. “We not only want to put something in that will stay there, but we also want to have enough time to put it in without having any further events.”

According to Sandoval County Public Information Officer Sidney Hill, there will be a meeting Monday at the gap, where officials will meet with residents to address their concerns.

The meeting will take place Monday, Aug. 19 at 9 a.m. The meeting will be on the Elk Trail Road, which is about one mile north of the intersection of Highway 4 and Sulphur Creek Road.

“It’s my understanding that the biggest issue in that area is the culvert, and that is a piece of equipment that is very hard to replace,” he said, adding that Public Works will talk about that as well as their plans to repair the roads.