Fire official to present Cerro Grande Fire talk

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By Carol A. Clark

“The Cerro Grande Fire and Our Recovery “ is the title of a public talk by Los Alamos County Deputy Fire Chief Doug Tucker set for 7 p.m. Friday.

The talk is accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation showing video and lots of news footage taken during and following the fire and will be held at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 1967 18th Street.

The talk is a modified version of the presentation Tucker and LAFD Fire Chief Doug MacDonald have presented around the world.

“We’ve presented this talk at least 50 times to audiences in Ireland, Russia and across the United States,” Tucker said. “It’s always so well received because it’s about a small community and the strength of this community because of the strong leadership we had at the time.”

Joe King was county administrator and along with current county administrator Max Baker, played important roles at the time and especially afterward in bringing the community together, he said.

The 2000 County Council also exercised strong leadership with councilors Lawry Mann, Lewis Muir, Sharon Stover, Chris Chandler, Patt Rogers, Robert Gibson and James Rickman.

“A lot of the major players are still here today and the presentation shows how stalwart the leaders and the community were,” Tucker said. “We had help from every level. From LANL and we had 65 fire departments involved and PNM and other entities across the state helped  reestablish our infrastructure.”

He added, “I was underneath the smoke and in the middle of it and didn’t know there were 150-foot flames and houses going up until I saw the footage.”

Tucker explained because Los Alamos is a small community, it is easy for other small communities to relate.

“The fact that we have a national lab – it got international play and pulled at people’s heart strings because this small community supports the nation’s mission through its support of this laboratory,” he said. “It took a disaster like the fire to bring everyone together. At that point in our lives we were looking at the same issues: Can we recover?”

For the most part the community gutted it out, he said, and the media played a major role carrying the story - before that Los Alamos was a secret city, Tucker said. It wasn’t just the fire fighters and police, he said, but the community rallied and that’s about as American as apple pie.

“I spent my whole career preparing for a disaster like this but most people in the community had no practical training whatsoever but boy, did they rally,” Tucker said. “I was doing my job but when I looked around and saw the depth of what other people were doing – it’s still overwhelming to talk about it today.”

The Cerro Grande Fire began as a well-intended effort on the part of the National Park Service (NPS) to protect the national laboratory and the community of Los Alamos.

Much devastation resulted from those honorable intentions when the fire quickly grew out of control, crowned and ran across the entire face of the local mountain, became a part of the Urban Interface Zone, threatened LANL and destroyed hundreds of homes.

From the beginning of the prescribed fire, Tucker was assigned as a liaison to the NPS team, and when that team made the transition to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Type 1 team, Tucker was assigned to the USFS team, directly to their Operations (OPS) Division.

Refreshments will be served during Friday’s talk, which is free of charge.

For information, contact Lawry Mann at 662-4590.